Manchester United snatch victory over West Ham after Rashford’s late winner

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<span>Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA</span>
Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

Arm-wrestle, tug of war, non-event, a fair share of the spoils: this was precisely where this contest was heading until, deep into added time, Marcus Rashford finished Edinson Cavani’s cross from the left to send himself, Manchester United, and the Old Trafford faithful into ecstasy. Cue Rashford, who has been off-colour, rushing across the Stretford End to knee-slide, joined by his jubilant teammates.

Ralf Rangnick can take well deserved credit as both Cavani and Rashford were attacking, late introductions, as the German chased victory.

Related: Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick gives Newcastle crucial win at Leeds

Before the showstopping climax this had been a match of mediocre fare that did not augur well for either team’s Champions League qualification hopes. Yet for Manchester United, who leapfrog West Ham into fourth – until Sunday, at least – the picture changes following a victory in Rangnick’s 10th game as the interim manager.

The first action featured a Mason Greenwood shot that was blocked when he might have passed – a recurring fault of his that can frustrate Rangnick. Fernandes, too, made the wrong decision when hitting a cross-field pass that lacked power: Jarrod Bowen dragged the ball down, surged forward and shot, though not on target, a recurring theme.

The next error came when Vladimir Coufal dawdled and was mugged by Fernandes, the right-back having to concede a free-kick. Cristiano Ronaldo hit this into West Ham’s wall and Greenwood – again – took aim and was once more unable to test Alphonse Areola, West Ham’s debutant goalkeeper.

Harry Maguire, Manchester United’s sole change in place of the excused Victor Lindelof, whose home had been broken into during the week, was up against Michail Antonio and the centre-forward’s clumsy touch allowed the captain to win their first duel. Declan Rice also emerged a victor when challenging Ronaldo, sitting the No 7 on his backside with a robust challenge, then laying the ball off.

In a ping-pong affair, Fernades’s curving delivery from the left had Ronaldo flinging himself toward – and missing – the ball. Next, poor control from Anthony Elanga, again preferred to Rashford in the starting XI, had Rangnick flinching but this hardly surprised as each team took turns to find a way to founder. For West Ham Manuel Lanzini tapped a pass to Pablo Fornals, received the ball back, and hit it straight out.

The “closest” Manchester United offered to a goal-threat before the break was a Ronaldo shout for a penalty when going went down under Kurt Zouma’s challenge: Jonathan Moss waved this away and the referee was correct to do so.

The half petered out, ending with zero shots on target. Manchester United were in the same position as they had been at Brentford and an initial burst involving Ronaldo, Alex Telles and Elanga was reminiscent of their second-half start there, when the latter scored.

Fred then drew a first save from either keeper via a fierce drive that began low and rose and had Areola punching the ball away. Were Manchester United stirring? A Ronaldo backheel towards Greenwood that had West Ham scrambling suggested maybe.

Craig Dawson heads clear from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Craig Dawson heads clear from Cristiano Ronaldo. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The visitors’ response took in Fornals dallying in Manchester United’s area, Bowen firing into the side-netting, and Coufal spraying the ball wildly into touch. Then Bowen drew a foul from Maguire and West Ham had promising position on the right: Aaron Cresswell pinged the free-kick in and Ronaldo headed away.

This led to a Manchester United attack and corner and when Telles landed it on Raphael Varane’s head the centre-back’s flicked header was wide but at least caused “oohs” from the Stretford End as did an Elanga swivel-and-volley that, again, missed.

This was the young Swede’s last act, Rangnick deciding he should be hooked for Rashford. The latter’s quick feet were involved in two openings but in these he first raced up a blind alley, and then swapped passes with Ronaldo before running out of space down the left.

Towards the final whistle, Tomas Soucek nearly scored for West Ham with a glancing header that veered past David De Gea’s right post. Then, the goalkeeper’s reflexes stopped Varane scoring inadvertently past him. By the end Cavani and Martial had joined Rashford and Ronaldo and now came Manchester United’s dramatic finish – and win.

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