Hammers Say Farewell To Boleyn With Memorable United Comeback Victory
In the third edition of our Classic Match series, we delve into the archives once more to relive another memorable West Ham United clash from down the years with you, this time around, the Hammers’ opponents were Thursday night’s Premier League visitors to the London Stadium in Manchester United.
Cast your minds back to the late spring of 2016, “One Dance” by Drake featuring Wizkid & Kyla was at the very summit of the British Music Charts and Labour’s Sadiq Khan had just been sworn in as the Mayor of London, taking over from Boris Johnson.
Meanwhile, in the world of football, and more specifically, the Premier League, West Ham United were enjoying their first season under Croatian manager and ex-player Slaven and celebrating it by challenging for UEFA Champions League football.
However, the campaign was significant for only one main reason for the Hammers and that was that, after 112 years, it would be their final term at their cherished home stadium of the Boleyn Ground.
Ahead of the final ever match at Upton Park against Manchester United, the Hammers had most recently been dealt a blow in their hopes of finishing in the top-four being thrashed 1-4 at home by Swansea City and fell to sixth position, as a result.
Whereas, the away side on that special night in East London, the Red Devils were suffering with quite the opposite fortunes to the East Londoners, underwhelming, instead of exceeding their expectations during the 2015/2016 season.
Under Dutchman Louis Van Gaal, they journeyed to the capital in fifth and desperately needed to win if they were to pip their Manchester rivals to finish in fourth position, off the back of a narrow away triumph at Norwich City, to the tune of 0-1.
It would be an atmospheric evening in E13 and the final ever match at Upton Park was to be played out on a Wednesday and broadcasted live on Sky Sports, with so much at stake, the eyes of the football world were on East London.
The build-up to the eagerly anticipated encounter was dominated by the antics of members of the Claret & Blue Army, buoyed by the carnival spirit around the ageing stadium, in its final hour.
The scheduled kick-off time of 7:45 PM BST was forced to be pushed back to 8:30 PM due to travel difficulties for the Manchester club’s team coach, which arrived late.
The vehicle was held up in the nearby Barking Road and ambushed by some supporters, who threw missiles at it and caused damage to it while the players were inside.
However, once all were present inside Upton Park, the focus could finally now switch to the hot evening’s football and when the two starting Xls were announced, the danger men could be clearly spotted in both the home and away teams.
For the hosts, these included the likes of French playmaker Dimitri Payet, recently crowned Hammer of the Year, and skipper Mark Noble, in the form of his career, and for the away team, names such as Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea and rising star Marcus Rashford fitted this billing.
The meeting was the fourth of the season between the two sides, a pair of draws at Old Trafford in the league and Emirates FA Cup came before and just weeks earlier, United’s sixth-round win at Upton Park in football’s oldest competition, the hosts were looking for revenge.
By the time kick-off finally came around on a warm May evening, Upton Park was rocking and, on the pitch, the two sets of players were ready to contest one of the most thrilling matches in PL history.
While their supporters made sure that no one could hear their thoughts inside the famous ground, it would be a dream start for the boys in Claret & Blue, as they edged ahead inside the first ten minutes.
Left-back Aaron Cresswell picked out Manuel Lanzini with a precise pass and he laid the ball back into the path of Senegalese striker Diafra Sakho, the striker’s shot deflecting off Daley Blind on its way to beating de Gea and nestling in the near bottom corner.
The strike was enough to raise the roof on the Boleyn and give Bilic’s boys a dream start, and they threatened to get more before the break, although they were denied countless times.
At the other end, United too showed glimpses, but by the time that half-time came around, had undoubtedly been second best in the contest so far, something which wouldn’t be the case for very long.
Van Gaal’s came out for the second half an entirely different side and their two goals in the space of 22 minutes from French attacker Anthony Martial would leave the home faithful in a state of shock.
The first arrived just before the hour mark, Rashford combining with Juan Mata to allow the forward to capitalise on a slip from Michail Antonio, who had a goal disallowed in the first period, and tap home, into an empty net.
The France International was forced to work a lot more for the second, after he was set away by Rashford, getting the better of defender Winston Reid and beating Darren Randolph at his near post from a one-on-one.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, the Irons had a lot of work to do to get a positive result to send off Upton Park, boost their European hopes and damage their opponent’s, in the process.
However, they were only behind for all of four minutes, Antonio scoring and this time, the linesman’s flag staying down, laying to rest the demons of his earlier defensive error.
Payet slammed a free-kick into the wall and then saw the ball come back to his feet, thinking quickly to pick out Antonio beyond the defence, with the soon-to-be England man leaping high to head home.
Encouraged by making it 2-2, West Ham couldn’t possibly be done there for the evening, they were on a mission and they may have chosen the hard way, but they got there in the end, resorting their lead on 80 minutes.
Once again Payet would be the provider, flighting a dangerous attacking free-kick into the centre of the box, there to meet it was Reid the Kiwi, glancing a quick-fire header goal-bound that de Gea couldn’t react quickly enough to keep out.
The goal was enough for perhaps the most important three points in the home team’s history, certainly one of the most enjoyable for those home fans as the hosts held out with ease.
This allowed a joyous closing ceremony to take place after the match, encompassing fireworks and lights shows, emotional montages and Interviews with former Hammers in the stands and on the playing field, and a live performance from West Ham-supporting band the Cockney Rejects.
In a footballing sense, the result had a profound impact on the race for the top four, virtually securing Blue Moon’s place in it, seeing the irons stay sixth, and United stay put a place outside where they yearned to be.
With only the final day left, it would be heartbreak for the Claret & Blue Army at Stoke City as they were defeated 2-1 and had to settle for seventh, not enough to secure a spot in the Europa League group stages.
While fifth would be the position that Man U finished the league season, they had bigger fish to fry the weekend after the campaign’s conclusion when hey contested the FA Cup final with Crystal Palace, defeating them 2-1, which meant entry into the Europa League qualifying rounds, after all, for the Hammers.
But, one question remains, will David Moyes’ West Ham United and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United play out such a thrilling affair when they do battle in the Premier League, at the London Stadium on Thursday night, marking two years to the day since the “Farewell Boleyn Game.”
You can find out with us right here on West Ham Matters as we bring you a Live Blog of the counter, tomorrow evening, featuring live and exclusive build-up, text commentary and reaction, live from the Press Box of the former Olympic Stadium and starting at 5:45 PM BST.