Manchester United escaped with a point from Upton Park but they -cannot escape a deepening and unflattering inquest into the level of their development under Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman is one of the most acclaimed managers of the modern era but his latest team have yet to reflect his Midas touch.
Criticism of Van Gaal needs tempering with a glance at his side's results, showing only one defeat (against Southampton) in 17 games. United are fourth, only five points behind the second-placed -Man-chester City. However, the superior work that Van Gaal's compatriot,
Ronald Koeman, is doing at the third?placed Southampton, who play with more confidence and far fewer resources, highlights Manches-ter United's quandary.
They look so unconvincing, so -lacking in defensive organisation and a cohesive attacking plan. Fielding Wayne Rooney in midfield is baffling to anyone who has followed the -striker's career, like inviting Jamie Oliver into your kitchen and telling him to do the dishes. The only debate with Rooney is whether he is a No 9 or a No 10; he is not a No 8 in old -footballing currency.
Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie are not prospering in tandem; dropping one, and moving Rooney up in support, makes more sense. Van Gaal always knows best, -apparently, but not here, not with this painful wasting of Rooney's abilities. Man-chester United fans can see it. The statistics confirmed it, showing that Rooney recorded only 72 per cent passing accuracy and one shot.
Similarly, playing long balls is not the Manchester United way. -Launching Hail Mary passes to -Marouane Fellaini must have been anathema for those travelling fans congregated in the Sir Trevor -Brooking Stand. "Long Ball Louis" is a mocking moniker they did not expect to be bestowed on their -celebrated coach by opponents. They were raised on admiring width, and there was little here.
Fielding Di Maria centrally hardly brings the best out of a player most dangerous raiding from wide and deep.
At least those proclaiming their allegiance to "Louis van Gaal's red-and-white army" were treated to an old favourite, that fighting spirit that brought so many late goals and glory under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Deep into Fergie time, Daley Blind equalised Cheikhou Kouyate's -elegant strike three minutes into the second half.
Van Gaal claimed that his team could have prevailed such was their improved form after a hapless first half when they were second to the ball and second-rate in their creative thinking. The fact remains that but for David de Gea's shot-stopping -athleticism, West Ham would have been over the horizon before Blind swooped.
If De Gea is voted Man-chester -United's player of the year it would be little surprise, and a slight indictment of Van Gaal's first season in charge at Old Trafford. If they qualify for the Champions League, and go far in the FA Cup, any dissent towards Van Gaal will totally disappear.
West Ham applauded their players' endeavours but felt frustrated. -Fortune's always hiding? It was here. West Ham should have won. It reflects their development this season, their belief fostered by good signings and greater tactical adventure, that they were so disappointed at dropping two points to such famous guests.
West Ham fans were treated to strong performances all around. Kouyate has played at centre-back for Anderlecht and Senegal before but it is not his natural position, yet he was superb. James Tomkins did well alongside him, filling in for the injured Winston Reid and James Collins. Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell were again good at full back, defending or pushing up, although Jenkinson's one mistake, a poor clearance, was seized on by Blind.
Ably assisted by Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan, Alex Song was -imperious in central midfield, deepening -Rooney's woes. Diafra Sakho led the line tirelessly, Enner Valencia was a whirl of motion while Stewart -Downing caused the visitors -problems with still ball and moving.
After 14 minutes, Enner Valencia seized on Marcos Rojo's header out and drilled in a shot that De Gea kept out. From the ensuing corner, -Tomkins flicked the ball to Valencia, whose volley was saved. West Ham's bench then became angered when Van Persie waved his left arm back in rising for a high ball, catching -Tomkins. The Dutchman's arm was straight, looking more designed for leverage than damage, and Mark Clattenburg contented himself with just a free-kick against Van Persie.
De Gea looked annoyed as Phil Jones and Rojo, No 4 and No 5, were again at sixes and sevens. Cresswell lifted in a free-kick from the left, the ball carrying to the unmarked -Tomkins at the far post. Once again, De Gea was to the rescue, saving Tomkins' header with his feet. De Gea stretched his arms out, almost -pleading for some defending.
The half finished with a moment of hope for Manchester United. Di Maria shot from range but it was a straightforward save for Adrian and Van Gaal's players left the field pursued by doubts.
The goal West Ham deserved arrived three minutes into the second half, and it was a magnificent strike in front of a jubilant Bobby Moore Stand. Manchester United had looked vulnerable to balls delivered from wide all afternoon and another corner brought chaos.
Rooney and Jones hesitated as the ball fell to Kouyate, who juggled the ball twice and turned, volleying it past De Gea with the help of a slight deflection off Blind. It was a fine piece of technique from Kouyate but also abject defending from Van Gaal's United team.
They did respond. Tomkins, -throwing himself full length, put in a block to deny Van Persie. Van Gaal sent on Fellaini for Adnan Januzaj after 72 minutes with Di Maria going left. Five minutes later, they had a glorious chance when Van Persie ushered -Falcao through but the Colombian, so bereft of confidence, shot horribly wide. A forward of his technical quality needs to take those if he is to convince Old Trafford's powerbrokers to sign him -permanently.
Adrian then saved from Van Persie, kicking his shot clear. Manchester United's mood briefly darkened further. Shaw was booked for dissent and Rooney stupidly talked his way into Clattenburg's book.
It could have got worse for -Rooney's team but De Gea kept out shots from Mark Noble and then Kevin Nolan. Deep into added time, Blind was quickest to react to Jenkinson's -clearance, sweeping the ball past Adrian. Shaw then fouled Downing, and departed for a second yellow, but at least the visitors left with a point.