The reaction of the two managers to Robin van Persie’s brilliant injury-time equaliser at Upton Park ten days ago told its own story.
As Sir Alex Ferguson danced a jig of delight, Sam Allardyce bowed his head and you didn’t need to be an expert in psychology to know that everyone, including those in the dug-out, knew West Ham United’s chance of upsetting Manchester United had evaporated in one swing of the Dutchman’s right foot.
It looked as though the Hammers were about to write the story of the FA Cup third round, too. Leading 2-1 as the fourth official hoisted his board aloft – with not even the obligatory Fergie time on it, either – Allardyce must have thought James Collins’ two (strangely identical) goals had done enough to put West Ham in the hat for the next round.
Or this being Manchester United, and Allardyce being one of Ferguson’s biggest sycophants, maybe he didn’t. Either way, in the space of one glorious pass from Ryan Giggs, a sublime touch and emphatic finish from Van Persie, the tie was going to a replay at Old Trafford and West Ham’s chance of being in the fourth round went with it.
Ferguson’s dance up and down the touchline when his star striker struck his shot home in east London was also telling. I can’t remember the last time I saw the Purple Nosed One celebrate a goal in the FA Cup with such gusto: perhaps the nine-year gap since United’s last triumph in the competition, when they beat Millwall in the final in Cardiff, goes some way to explaining that.
And if that is Ferguson’s attitude to the FA Cup this year (quite a change from when he happily pulled out in 2000, lest we forget) then there is no hope for the Hammers in this replay on Wednesday.
To be honest, even if Ferguson hadn’t set his sights so firmly on adding the trophy to his collection, West Ham wouldn’t have much hope of getting a result anyhow, as odds of 3/10 on a home win and 8/1 on an upset show (the draw is 4/1).
You just can’t bet against the Red Devils at the minute (and Lord knows I wish I could). They look fallible, concede goals and don’t always play with the panache you expect from a Manchester United side, but they keep winning.
United have won 14 of the last 16 Premier League games, scoring 43 goals at the same time, and in Van Persie they have the country’s outstanding performer.
Of course, there is every chance that Van Persie will be watching this one from the bench (where he sat for the majority of the original tie before his late salvaging act) as Ferguson shuffles his pack.
But if the former Arsenal man will be kept fresh for the title run-in to come, Wayne Rooney and Nani are returning and any United side should have too much for an out-of-form Hammers team.
Fat Sam’s men have won just two of the last 11 to slide down the table after a promising start to the season and their away form is dreadful.
The Hammers have won just two of their ten away games this season, but have scored just five times, and two of those were at Mark Hughes’ Queens Park Rangers, so I’m pretty sure they don’t actually count.
West Ham have lost four of their last five games on the road, scoring just one solitary goal (a late consolation at Tottenham) and I don’t think they will be scoring here. This fixture at the end of November in the league ended in a 1-0 home win and I see something similar happening again.
As such, the 2/1 that Manchester United win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 looks good to me. West Ham don’t score, but they don’t often get royally turned over and with a rotated United side not looking to go for the throat, an easy, comfortable win looks on the cards.
Top bet: Man Utd to beat West Ham 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 @ 2/1