Manchester United striker Anthony Martial kept their FA Cup hopes alive when he struck eight minutes from time to salvage a 1-1 draw with West Ham United in Sunday’s quarterfinal tie at Old Trafford.
West Ham playmaker Dimitri Payet looked to be sending the 11-times Cup winners tumbling out of the competition with a wondrous, 30-metre curling free kick in the 68th minute.
But with time running out, United’s young French starlet Martial hooked Ander Herrera’s cross on the volley back into the net from the narrowest of angles.
Just like holders Arsenal’s exit earlier on Sunday in a 2-1 home defeat by Watford that heaped more pressure on manager Arsene Wenger, a United exit would have raised more questions about the future of boss Louis van Gaal.
With United 2-0 down after a dismal first leg performance in their Europa League last 16 tie with Liverpool on Thursday and 13 points adrift of Leicester City in the Premier League title race, Martial’s strike offered blessed relief for Van Gaal.
“I am very happy that my team showed their spirit after a nasty week,” a relieved Van Gaal told BT Sport.
“We have played a game against Liverpool on Thursday and they (West Ham) had the whole week to prepare. I have to give a lot of compliments to my team. They were mentally tired after Liverpool and also in the body.”
Both Van Gaal and his West Ham counterpart Slaven Bilic agreed it had been a thrilling finale, with Payet’s extraordinary skill with the dead ball decorating proceedings.
“It was one of the best free kicks I’ve scored and to score in one of the most beautiful stadiums in the league, it’s a great day for me,” said Payet, whose curler past David de Gea via the post was just the latest masterpiece of his exceptional breakthrough season.
Yet Bilic felt two “crucial” decisions had gone against the Hammers, costing his side a semi-final tie at Wembley.
Bilic felt Marcos Rojo had “clearly” brought down Payet in the box in the second half and was also convinced Bastian Schweinsteiger had fouled West Ham’s keeper Darren Randolph, knocking him over into the net as Martial struck the equaliser.
“It’s an obvious foul from Schweinsteiger on Randy. He would have definitely got to the ball,” Bilic told BT Sport.
Now, United face a tough task in a replay, the date of which has still to be arranged but it is bound to be an emotional occasion -- the last Cup tie to be staged at their famous Boleyn Ground in London’s East End before West Ham move to the Olympic Stadium next season.
“With the history of our stadium, it’s going to be another historic game and you can’t ask for more,” said Bilic.
He knows a Hollywood ending is required, though. “We won’t put it in the books if we lose the last game. Another epic home FA Cup match and we couldn’t ask for more,” added the Croatian. “It’s like Spielberg.”