Paul Pogba scores two penalties to prevent West Ham upset and keep Man Utd in top four hunt

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MANCHESTER United may have Ole at the wheel – but if it hadn’t been for Paul Pogba’s nerve, they’d have driven down another blind alley.

Two penalties – one dubious to say the least – and both of them clinically put away by the cool-eyed Frenchman were enough to snatch the win.

Paul Pogba scores two penalties to prevent West Ham upset and keep Man Utd in top four huntGetty Images6 Paul Pogba scored two penalties as Man Utd beat West Ham 2-1
Paul Pogba scores two penalties to prevent West Ham upset and keep Man Utd in top four huntEPA6 Pogba held his nerve twice to guide United to victory

And snatch them Manchester United most definitely did. No wonder Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had special thanks for his midfield kingpin at the end.

United were lucky. United didn’t deserve to win. United, if they play like this in the Nou Camp on Wednesday, will get absolutely walloped.

They were flat, they were sluggish, for much of it they were inept. And, with Barcelona next and after four losses in the last five, it was the last thing they could afford.

Indeed, it needed the saving grace – incorrectly as it happens – of linesman Neil Jones to stop them falling behind after only ten minutes.

Arthur Masuaku made the most of being left in space on one flank to curl in a deep cross that was nodded down by Javier Hernandez.

POGS OF WAR

Felipe Anderson, totally unmarked and bang in front, smashed in, only for referee Graham Scott to immediately rule it out.

At first glance it looked a bang on decision, too. But replays showed Diogo Dalot, still lurking on the right flank, was tardy in clearing his lines and Anderson was onside.

The good fortune wasn’t all at one end, either. For just seven minutes later United got another helping hand off the official as they went ahead.

Anthony Martial laid one off to Juan Mata a yard inside the box, and Robert Snodgrass came sliding in from behind.

The Hammers midfielder got nowhere near the ball and it was hard to see if his collision with Mata was instigated by him or the Spaniard.

Oh, and just to cap it all, there was even some debate as to whether it was actually in the area in the first place.

Apart from all that, it was nailed on.

Having said that, from referee Scott’s angle – and he was in an ideal position – you couldn’t blame him for giving it, when not even replays could give a conclusive answer either way.

OLE IN ONE

Pogba wasn’t about to dither and debate the point, Any more than he was to stutter in his run-up, as has become a frustratingly annoying norm.

This time it was a traditional approach to the ball, and a drilled finish into Lukasz Fabianski’s right-hand corner, while the keeper dived to his left.

Yet if we all expected that opener to settle home nerves, and fray visiting ones, we got a swift answer. Not one the United fans wanted, either.

And if there had been any justice, West Ham would have levelled it soon afterwards, after two quickfire corners both left defensive hearts in mouths.

First Snodgrass’ whipped delivery flew over three heads, before striking Dalot’s and flying over the bar.

Then, when Anderson flicked on the next at the near post, it just evaded Manuel Lanzini’s desperate stretch from right in front.

Surely United’s good fortune couldn’t last. Surely West Ham’s had to change for the better.

Well five minutes after the break it did. Although it wasn’t down to luck, it was down to lethargy and laziness from one side, and graft and guile on the other.

David De Gea’s roll-out to Pogba wasn’t the best, but there would still have been no danger had the Frenchman put his foot on it first.

WHEELY GOOD

Instead he let the ball go past him, intending to turn and go forward as one. That was all the invite Declan Rice needed to pounce and nick it away.

Snodgrass moved it to the flank, where Lanzini crossed, Anderson stretched to volley and De Gea capped a miserable moment or two by failing to keep it out at his near post.

So much for hoping for an easy ride ahead of that daunting Champions League trip. So much for being able to hand a couple of his big hitters a feet-up-and-watch 90 minutes.

Instead Marcus Rashford found himself pitched on to try and inject some enthusiasm and energy – yet aside of one low shot, he was soon sucked into the malaise.

Yet it was the West Ham replacements who nearly stole the show, with Michail Antonio rattling the bar with one thunderous drive.

Then, when fellow sub Grady Diangana dinked one over, he nodded down and surely into the top corner – only for De Gea to produce a save that truly was out of this world.

It was the kick in the nuts United needed, because minutes later they were back in front again.

Pogba’s through ball to send Anthony Martial streaking clear was fantastic, but also fortuitous as it evaded three stretching legs before it did so.

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Ryan Fredericks flew back in a despairing attempt to save the day, but only sent Martial tumbling and once more the official was pointing to the spot.

And although Fabianski guessed right, as Pogba picked the same spot, the finish was so clinical, he couldn’t get near it.

It was just about the only clinical thing about United all day.

Paul Pogba scores two penalties to prevent West Ham upset and keep Man Utd in top four huntReuters6 Felipe Anderson had levelled for West Ham earlier in the game
Paul Pogba scores two penalties to prevent West Ham upset and keep Man Utd in top four huntPA:Empics Sport6 The Brazilian took advantage of a mistake by David De Gea
Paul Pogba scores two penalties to prevent West Ham upset and keep Man Utd in top four huntReuters6 Anthony Martial won a second penalty for United with ten minutes to go
Paul Pogba scores two penalties to prevent West Ham upset and keep Man Utd in top four huntGetty Images6 Pogba was not afraid to take another spot-kick as he sealed the win for United

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