Martial salvages draw for Man United
Frenchman cancels out Payet's superb free-kick to earn United replay
MAN UNITED 1
(Anthony Martial 83)
WEST HAM 1
(Dimitri Payet 68)
Anthony Martial saved both the day and the face of his manager.
Against the run of play, the Manchester United striker pinched a late equaliser to earn the lacklustre hosts a 1-1 draw with West Ham in their FA Cup quarter-final this morning (Singapore time).
With both clubs chasing a spot in the English Premier League top four, neither side will fancy the prospect of a replay, but the Hammers must be devastated.
For 83 minutes, until Martial scored, the venue had lived up to the billing for Dimitri Payet.
The Theatre of Dreams witnessed a goal lifted from a comic book as the unstoppable Frenchman appeared to steer the happy Hammers into the FA Cup semi-finals and they would have been deserving winners.
United's haphazard performance confused even before kick-off, when Louis van Gaal switched Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo around.
Rojo slotted in at centre back and Dutchman Blind, not renowned for his aerial ability, was shunted out to right back.
And then, inexplicably to anyone not living in van Gaal world, the United defenders were switched back again within five minutes.
Less than 60 seconds later, West Ham nearly profited from van Gaal's meddling. Andy Carroll dinked a pass over confused duo Blind and Rojo and Emmanuel Emenike dragged his shot wide when he almost certainly should have scored.
But the game swiftly settled into a battle of the left flank, with Aaron Cresswell, West Ham's liveliest performer, pinning back Guillermo Varela, while Martial enjoyed a tango with Michail Antonio.
If Martial edged the early tussles, the Hammers edged the first half, thanks in large part to United's insufferable habit of falling back into first gear.
Alongside Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick resembled an ageing Oscar-winning thespian working with a pantomime cow that struggles to stay on its feet and always threatens to fall off stage.
Carrick's age and Fellaini's floundering make United so slow.
Better finishing from Emenike might have allowed the visitors to go in at half-time ahead, but West Ham's tendency to search for the galloping bruiser with a pony-tail actually inhibited their performance.
Manager Slaven Bilic obviously expected Carroll to challenge a United defence that displays less consistency in the air than a kite caught in a hurricane, but the tactic appeared to be counter-productive.
By constantly looking for Carroll, the Hammers neglected Payet, who drifted inside from the left to try and influence proceedings, but laboured in vain.
Then came the two key moments of the game.
In the 64th minute, Payet broke free in the box and, after the slightest touch from Rojo, took off with a balletic dive straight from Swan Lake.
Referee Martin Atkinson waved play on, infuriating the visitors who felt there was contact and the hosts, who believed Payet's theatrics deserved an early bath after a first-half yellow card.
The man at the centre of the discussion, at the very centre of West Ham's season, then quietly went away and curled in an FA Cup beauty.
On this occasion, he was fouled. In the 68th minute, Blind bundled Payet to the turf. The unflappable Frenchman dusted himself down and, from a full 25 metres, spun a swirling, dipping free-kick past a despairing David de Gea and in off the post.
The build-up was controversial. The goal was utterly sublime.
United looked dead and buried until Martial snatched his unlikely equaliser in the 83rd minute.
His marker, substitute striker Diafra Sakho, lost him at the far post, allowing the Frenchman to tap home Ander Herrera's looping cross.
United had earned an unexpected reprieve. Now they must face the wrath of the frustrated West Ham faithful at the last-ever FA Cup match at Upton Park.