This joyful affair for Manchester United was graced by a blistering Rasmus Højlund strike and the comical celebration of Alejandro Garnacho’s first goal as he, the former, and Kobbie Mainoo sat atop a Stretford End advertising hoarding.
It was this type of afternoon for Erik ten Hag’s work-in-progress of a team. On his 21st birthday Højlund greeted his finish with a hopping air-guitar mime and when, a little after Garnacho doubled the lead, Diogo Dalot skidded along the grass to block Jarrod Bowen’s shot, a raucous cheer was provoked.
The one low note was the sight of Lisansdro Martínez, four games into returning from a foot injury, being forced off on 71 minutes with what appeared a knee problem. It followed the defender continuing to play on after the clash with Tomas Soucek that seemed to cause this.
Even at 2-0 up, though, United were too open, unable to manage the contest as Ten Hag wishes, until Garnacho’s second sealed victory and claimed two consecutive Premier League wins for only a third time this term.
West Ham had preyed on this shakiness by strolling about in possession and nearly profiting from the first corner. James Ward-Prowse lifted the ball in, Soucek’s header was flicked on by Edson Álavarez before André Onana, close to nose-to-nose with him in a crowded six-yard box, dove left to save.
United upped gear. Harry Maguire, in for Raphaël Varane, intercepted Soucek’s pass near halfway. Marcus Rashford took over and drove through the area before Kurt Zouma cleared. The corner, taken short by a Luke Shaw-Rashford combo, was worked to Bruno Fernandes: he thumped a shot, it dipped under the bar, and Alphonse Areola palmed away.
End-to-end entertainment is great for the spectator, less so for managers, so Ten Hag and David Moyes hoped their United would take charge. It did not occur as, next, the busy Soucek’s 20-yard effort went for a corner. This was taken, the ball broke to Mohammed Kudus, Martínez was adjudged to have fouled the winger and a free-kick was awarded.
Ward-Prowse smashed this low and Casemiro repelled with his head. Now, the Brazilian was pivotal in Højlund’s fifth strike in six outings as he stabbed a Zouma clearance to the Dane. In a flash Hojlund dropped a shoulder, shifted the ball from his left to right foot, and a dead-eye finish beat Areola.
The rest of the half featured United’s tempo slowing and the Hammers threatening them at several Ward-Prowse set-pieces. From one corner Højlund nearly turned culprit by grappling Zouma in the area. He escaped sanction and, as the interval neared, missed an Garnacho tee-up, spraying wide from an acute angle, close-in down the left.
Areola, who had taken an inadvertent knock from Zouma, was replaced by Lukasz Fabianski for the second half and Ten Hag’s men emerged needing to be far quicker. And slicker – which Maguire was not when dawdling and Emeron Palmieri mugged him. Suddenly the left-back was in but he scooped over and instantly regretted this, as West Ham conceded.
It was simple: Fernandes floated the ball to the right to Garancho who chopped onto his left and unloaded, the ball pinballing off Nayef Aguerd beyond Fabianski. The Garnacho-Højlund-Mainoo celebration followed and United again had a two-goal lead, as they bid not cede the same advantage they gave up at Newport County and Wolves in the past two outings.
It should have been 3-0 but when the ball bobbled to Rashford but he skied the attempt and wheeled in frustration, showing a rare smile which, given his recent Belfast-located travails, was heartening to witness.
Encouraging, too, for United was the manner of the third as Scott McTominay, on for Mainoo, stripped Kalvin Phillips of possession and curved the ball right to Garancho: on trotting forward he made no mistake.
The match fell the closest to the Munich air disaster of 6 February 1958 that caused 23 fatalities including eight United players and three staff. United’s win, then, was the best tribute for those who died in that terrible occurrence.