ANTHONY MARTIAL’s late equaliser earned Manchester United an FA Cup quarter-final replay at West Ham United after Dimitri Payet’s magnificent free-kick threatened to heap further misery on manager Louis van Gaal. Payet’s 68th-minute strike, curved high past United keeper David de Gea from 30 yards, looked to have put the Hammers on course for a semi-final at Wembley.
United, however, were revitalised by the introduction of Bastian Schweinsteiger for the struggling Marouane Fellaini and Martial ensured the teams would meet again at the Boleyn Ground with a far-post finish seven minutes from time.
Michael Carrick shot just wide and De Gea saved superbly from Michail Antonio in a frantic finale — while West Ham were frustrated earlier when referee Martin Atkinson ignored penalty appeals after Payet fell under challenge from Marcos Rojo.
In amongst the wreckage of this traumatic season for Manchester United, the £36m purchase of Martial has been one of the few shining lights.
And the 20-year-old came to the rescue of Van Gaal just as West Ham looked on course to knock the home team out of the FA Cup.
Martial was tireless throughout and got his reward when he reacted first at the far post, turning in Ander Herrera’s cross as Diafra Sakho hesitated.
If United had gone out here, Van Gaal would have been left banking on his side delivering the sort of comeback they currently look incapable of producing as they try to overturn Liverpool’s 2-0 lead in the last 16 of the Europa League at Old Trafford on Thursday.
It would have left Van Gaal effectively facing the end of United’s season — and almost certainly the end of his reign at the end of the season.
Martial’s goal at least gives Van Gaal and United something extra to fight for in the quarter-final replay.
West Ham brought 9,000 fans to Old Trafford — and the name of one man was on their lips before, during and after this FA Cup quarter-final.
“We’ve Got Payet, Dimitri Payet” has become an anthem at the Boleyn Ground and the 28-year-old signed from Marseille for a fee in excess of £10m last summer justified every part of his status as the new idol of West Ham. When he lined up his free-kick, it looked almost too far out even for a player who has made a habit of producing the spectacular this season. However, he somehow found the only part of the net that was out of reach of the outstretched arm of De Gea. World class.
Payet’s impact at West Ham has been so big he was swiftly rewarded with a new, extended contract to ward off potential interest from elsewhere.
West Ham will have a new beginning at the Olympic Stadium next season — the brilliant Frenchman will be the symbol of that fresh start.
The giant figure of Fellaini has always been a square peg in a round hole at Old Trafford, a player out of step with United’s traditions of fast, attacking play.
It has not always been the Belgian’s fault, but the regard in which he is held was emphasised by the loud cheers that greeted his substitution, the loudest of the day at that point.
And his cause was not helped by the transformation in United’s play once he went off and the veteran Schweinsteiger was introduced with 16 minutes left.
United had been one-dimensional and stodgy, with too many long balls and unimaginative ideas that proved easy for West Ham’s defence to deal with.
Van Gaal’s changes saw United finally produce width and threat, with the 31-year-old German showing all his experience to spread the play and give the Hammers something to think about.
The sudden build-up of pressure led to Martial’s equaliser — so perhaps a lesson learned for Van Gaal. — BBC Sport