When the ball dropped on to Alejandro Garnacho’s toes, there were 90 minutes played, and only one thing on the youngster’s mind. What occurred next was executed expertly: first came a touch to make space, then a look up at Alphonse Areola’s goal, followed by a sublime curled finish. Cue pandemonium, Erik ten Hag punching the air, and Alan Keegan, the stadium announcer, saying: “There will be four minutes of added time.”
This is how late Manchester United left it after Saïd Benrahma had been en route to being West Ham’s hero with a second-half peach of an opener before, haplessly, Nayef Aguerd turned into his own goal for the equaliser. After Garnacho’s strike there was more, as Fred hit an added-time third – Aguerd again at fault, failing to track him – and the manager’s face broke into even more glee.
The message from the Dutchman had been clear: the Carabao Cup triumph on Sunday was to be forgotten by footballers who should get back to work in professional fashion. His charges suggested they would via one dazzling move of high quality in which Antony backheeled to Scott McTominay and cut in from the right and smacked a pass to Wout Weghorst: he feathered off to Marcel Sabitzer and his effort caused Areola to dive to save.
This was as good as United can be – fast, skilful and direct and, as encouraging, was how an XI showing only David de Gea, Diogo Dalot, Bruno Fernandes, Antony and Weghorst as survivors from the weekend gelled.
The visitors were being pummelled but began to break out occasionally, as when Lucas Paquetá slipped Michail Antonio in on the right, twice, the latter’s crosses, though, a disappointment. Weghorst’s ability to involve others with touches and passes were the opposite: each time the ball came into him the layoff was effective and could split West Ham open.
This is precisely what Aguerd’s pass did to United by bisecting Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf, and Antonio galloped in: De Gea advanced, spread his frame and blocked the attempt. Next the goalkeeper, whose clean sheet at Wembley was a 181st and the United record, plucked a high ball fashioned by Paquetá cleanly out of the air. At the other end Fernandes’s free-kick was nodded by Maguire to McTominay and though his swivel was smooth his connection did not beat Areola.
Goalless at the interval, Ten Hag looked at a bench featuring Casemiro and Marcus Rashford and made a move, introducing the Brazilian for McTominay, in what was an upgrading of the United engine room. Casemiro’s opening contribution was a nonchalant chip aimed for Antony and it earned a corner, but dead balls are a facet Ten Hag’s men need to improve and yet another was wasted.
Casemiro, next, skipped into an advanced area, sliding the ball to Weghorst whose scooped shot went wide. Weghorst’s mini-exhibition featured a pass to Fernandes who tapped to Sabitzer but failed to take the return ball.
It was costly as West Ham pounced: Tomas Soucek dallied with the ball on the left touchline before finding Emerson Palmieri, he relayed possession to Benrahma, and his rocket allowed De Gea no chance. After the VAR ruled Soucek had not taken it out of play, the goal stood.
The game was breathless. Casemiro, already the best of those in red, hit a daisy-cutter Areola took care of, before Rashford, too, let fly, the home support vocal and desperate for an equaliser.
Casemiro scored with a header against Newcastle in the final but this time, when breaching the visitors this way, he was ruled (by the VAR) as offside. When next a head found the net, it was, sadly for him, Aguerd’s. “We blew it,” said David Moyes. “We ended up giving away two ridiculous goals.”
West Ham’s manager was unhappy with the marking for United’s second and third but for them next up in the cup are Fulham at Old Trafford.