Ten-man Manchester United survived a second half onslaught from West Ham to see out a 2-1 victory in a nervy encounter at Old Trafford. First half goals from Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie gave the hosts a 2-0 lead before Diafara Sakho pulled a goal back after a David DeGea blunder. United played the final third of the game with ten men after captain Wayne Rooney was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Stewart Downing. The Hammers pushed for an equaliser but United held on to claim an important three points.
Louis Van Gaal handed a league debut to Luke Shaw and a full senior debut to 19 year old centre half Paddy McNair, amid the defensive injury crisis. Shaw and McNair replaced Tyler Blackett and Jonny Evans from the team that lost to Leicester last week, Van Gaal leaving the front six unchanged. The home side started the brighter and were given an early lead through Wayne Rooney. Rafael skipped past his man down the right and curled a magnificent ball towards Rooney, the captain matching the cross with a tremendous side –footed finish across Adrian. United built on their early momentum and pushed forward, both DiMaria and Falcao seeing their efforts go over the bar. The Old Trafford faithful didn’t have to wait long for their lead to be doubled however, as Robin Van Persie put them two ahead. Alex Song was dispossessed by Ander Herrera and Falcao fed the Dutchman who found the bottom corner with a right foot finish for his 50th goal for the club. It was almost a repeat of last Sunday straight from kick off, a sloppy Daley Blind back pass handing a golden opportunity to Enner Valencia, but the Ecuadorian striker fired high and wide. The Irons did pull a goal back soon after through Sakho after a gaffe from DeGea. The keeper came to claim a Downing corner but missed the ball, Sakho heading into an empty net after Valencia’s effort had hit the crossbar.
West Ham, encouraged by United’s shaky defence, continued to grow into the game after the interval and DeGea had to make a point blank save to deny Sakho his second at the back post. Then on the hour mark came a moment of madness from Wayne Rooney when he kicked out at Stewart Downing in an incident strikingly similar to his dismissal for England against Montenegro in 2011. Referee Lee Mason was given little option and produced a straight red card. Van Gaal switched to a 4-4-1 with Darren Fletcher replacing Falcao. From that point on it was all hands to the pump for United as West Ham searched for an equaliser. McNair justified his selection with a superb defensive header to prevent a certain goal at the death and Kevin Nolan had a goal ruled out for offside. The final whistle was greeted with sighs of relief, a significant three points gained.
After the slip last week at Leicester, it was important that United responded with a victory and Van Gaal will be pleased with the determined second half display that saw his side hang on to their lead after going a man down. The main talking point will of course be the Rooney red card. Like so often in the past the red mist descended on the fiery forward as he lashed out in anger. The key difference here is that he is now captain of Manchester United is expected lead by example. Van Gaal stated a couple of weeks ago that Rooney, as captain, was the only player who’s starting place was not under threat. Despite a couple of inconsistent performances from Rooney, Van Gaal opted to move him into a deeper role and drop Mata to in an attempt to accommodate his captain. Rooney now faces a three game suspension and will miss matches against Everton, West Brom and Chelsea. This opens the door for Mata to stake a claim for his favoured number 10 role at the tip of the midfield diamond. Should the Spaniard take his chance and impress during Rooney’s suspension it will be interesting to see how and where Van Gaal fits his much maligned captain back into the team.