The game was up after 15 minutes. Any plan West Ham Utd had in mind to stifle a resurgent Manchester Utd at the London Stadium was shredded the moment Mike Dean sent off Sofiane Feghouli in a decision that seemed excessive.
Even the usual phlegmatic Slaven Bilic thought so: “I was very surprised,” Bilic said after the visitors had put two past the Irons without reply.
“You know me, I’m the first one who says referees have a difficult job, and every time we look at a slow motion I go: ‘Yeah, they don’t have that in real time.’
“But I said it then – I wouldn’t have been happy with a yellow. I said it to the fourth official and to [Manchester Utd manager] José Mourinho, it’s not a yellow. If it was yellow I’d be asking: ‘Why a yellow so early in the game for basically nothing?’ And you have to know it’s Feghouli – he very rarely makes a foul.”
The other player in the foul was Phil Jones, who was full-blooded in his tackle. From then on he was booed with every touch. But the east London crowd were more angry about the loss of the spectacle.
A West Ham side who were becoming familiar with victory again taking on Mourinho’s flamboyant, if inconsistent, super-team. A feast fit for a bank holiday, albeit a cold one.
“Of course the decision had an impact, so early,” said Bilic. “I won’t say it killed us because we continued to play well, but it had a major impact on the game that prevented us from hurting them more.”
It was a limp end to a routine Christmas with two wins – Hull and Swansea – and two defeats – Leicester and Manchester Utd – which keep West Ham out of the relegation zone but do not yet suggest which way the team is going.
Two more home matches follow – Manchester City on Friday (January 6) and Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace on January 14 – which may provide a truer test than a game that was hobbled before it even got out the gates. “It’s always hard,” said Havard Nordveit. “We worked hard and after 10 or 15 minutes we were quite good. We had good combinations and some decent chances.
“But when Feghouli got sent off, of course it was always going to be hard against a team like Manchester United. We know that 11 v 11 is a tough game against Man United and when we get a man sent off, it’s hard.”
Slaven Bilic is now plunged into a transfer window which he should use to repair the damage a summer of poor signings. First priority is keeping Dimitri Payet who has been linked to Ligue One giants Marseille.
Bilic insists he is keeping his star player but he was removed from the Manchester Utd match, sparking further speculation.
Bilic said: “If you’re moving up and moving forward, we want to keep our best players and he’s our best player. We want to keep him.”
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