he London Stadium has hardly been the most comfortable of homes for West Ham since the move from Upton Park four years ago, but as fans returned to Premier League football for the first time in 271 days, there was a new confidence about east London.
David Moyes and his players had arguably benefited more than any other Premier League side from the absence of fans over the last nine months, claiming 29 points from the 19 games played since the shutters were pulled down on football.
For more than 45 minutes here it looked as if the hosts were going to show the 2,000 let back in just how much they’d improved, before familiar faults set in as Moyes and his side made to pay for profligacy as Manchester United snatched a dream return from the West Ham fans.
Their side were at United from the off, pressing every last iota of confidence from a Bruno Fernandes-less midfield in the first half with the Portuguese waiting to pounce from the bench. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek were titans in midfield, constantly leaving Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek red-faced as they nipped the ball away and started another counter.
It was Moyes’ midfield duo who combined for the deserved opener, Rice heading Aaron Cresswell’s corner across goal for Soucek to bundle home at the far post – but really they should have gone in at the break with the game all but over.
Pablo Fornals and – far more noticeably – Sebastien Haller passing up big chances, the latter slipping and landing on his backside just as he was about to sweep into an empty net having rounded Dean Henderson.
There had been far too many warnings for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the United boss responded by sending on Fernandes and Marcus Rashford at the break. The two transformed the game.
United managed as many shots in the first 10 minutes of the second half as they had done for the entire first, and it wasn’t long before that pressure bore fruit.
Dean Henderson’s long ball forward under pressure, deemed to have stayed in play after a VAR review, found Fernandes who cut inside to tee up Pogba – the Frenchman curling a fine finish past Lukasz Fabianski for his first Premier League goal of the season.
There were no questions about the second as Mason Greenwood took just one touch to flick an Alex Telles cross up and away from Angelo Ogbonna, leaving the Italian stranded, and fire brilliantly into the far corner. Rashford delivered the coup de grace, racing through on the break as West Ham pushed for a way back in before dinking over Fabianski.
United have form for this, winning more points from losing positions than any other side in the Premier League this season – but so do West Ham. No side has dropped more points from a winning position since the start of last season. Moyes was left frustrated by the decision over whether or not the ball went out of play for United’s leveller, but he will have held similar annoyances for the fact that so many golden chances were passed up, sparing United just as they were about to crumble.
It remains an encouraging start to the season, and in facing a side who can bring such talent on from the bench and losing there should be little embarrassment. But this was a chance to show the returning support just what could be done this season, and it feels like one which slipped from West Ham’s grasp.
Antonio importance laid bare
There is one man who could well have ensured those chances didn’t go to waste. Michail Antonio, the spearhead for all that has been good about West Ham since the League moved behind closed doors, was missing once more having suffered another hamstring problem against Aston Villa on Monday.
Moyes sounded encouraged that it was nothing too serious when the news was revealed, and after Haller’s slip at the crucial moment, he will have everything crossed that the 30-year-old can make a swift and safe return next time around.
Watching Rashford deliver the decisive blow after Haller’s fluffed attempt when through one-on-one served as a reminder of just how big a difference a clinical forward can make.
There’s little doubt that presented with the same opportunity, Antonio would have doubled the lead and left United with an even greater mountain to climb – and he would have stayed on his feet.
Benrahma makes case to start
The sight of Said Benrahma’s name trending on Twitter before kick-off was a sign of the clamour to see the Algerian handed his first start.
While it was hard to argue before kick-off that either Pablo Fornals or Jarrod Bowen deserve to be dropped – and that remains a tough sell – Benrahma’s cameos are making quite the case.
He made a fine impact against Aston Villa on Monday and was straight into the action here once more, giving United plenty to think about late on. It was too little too late on this occasion, but the calls for the former Brentford man to get 90 minutes in which to show what he can do are only going to grow.
This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League.
Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri – Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.