Manchester United laboured to a 1-1 draw against West Ham to creep into the top four ahead of the final game of the season.
Manchester United knew that any kind of result would see them move ahead of Leicester before their season-ending meeting with the Foxes, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have been expecting a reaction from his side following their defeat in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final.
However, it was a sluggish performance from the hosts, who far too often looked void of ideas in possession, and as West Ham were growing into the game, they were handed an opportunity to take the lead. Paul Pogba handled the ball in the area from a well-struck Declan Rice effort, the World Cup winner rather embarrassingly feigning that the ball hit him in the face.
VAR cleared up the blatant handball, before Michail Antonio continued his recent goalscoring form by slotting the resulting penalty past David de Gea.
United did show a minor response in the second half, and a tidy piece of link-up play on the edge of the box saw Anthony Martial play in Mason Greenwood, who made no mistake by rasping a low effort past Lukasz Fabianski from inside the box.
The goal didn’t prompt any further upturn in United’s performance though, and they very rarely looked like troubling the West Ham defence, and speaking afterwards, Solskjaer admitted his side ‘lacked control’ against David Moyes’ ‘organised’ side.
“We got back again and got the result we needed,” the Norweigian said in his post-match press conference. “We didn’t get the performance we wanted as we lacked control of the game but it was also to do with a very well organised and confident West Ham team.
“You saw they played with so much confidence, they kept us having to defend and defended well themselves. David [de Gea] showed why we need him in that goal today because he made a great save. I was very pleased with the boys’ reaction in the second half.”
Throughout the season, Solskjaer has been effusive in his praise of teenage talent Mason Greenwood following his breakthrough campaign, and he reserved plenty of praise for the academy graduate following his point-salvaging intervention.
“Mason has bailed us out a few times, he’s done it again,” Solskjaer admitted. “He’s absolutely top class. Ever since we gave him the opportunity against Cardiff in the last game of last season, his first start, he was the best player in that game. His talent, his qualities, his attributes – they work at the highest level so we expect him to do it. We see him in training and expect him to hit the target. In the first half, Ogbonna blocked a very good strike, it was a fantastic hit on the ball. The kid’s going from strength to strength.
“With Mason, you know when he’s had a good sleep or he’s stayed up late playing on the PlayStation as then he may not hit the ball as cleanly. What he did today, he’s done it time and time again. Every time he finishes, you can see he’s an exceptional finisher. It’s no surprise when he hits the back of the net as he’s that good a finisher.”
The result moved Manchester United up to third in the table ahead of Chelsea, needing just a draw in their game against Leicester on Sunday to qualify for the Champions League.
“We know we’re playing a difficult team – they are very, very dangerous in different aspects of the game and different things tactically,” Solskjaer said of Leicester. “We’ll enjoy the 24 hours we have to break and be ready, physically and mentally.”