The Hammers' tactics gave the league leaders a scare but their focus was formidable and this was no replay of 1995
Every Manchester United fan aged roughly 25 or over remembers precisely where he or she was. They also remember precisely what they said. On 14 May 1995, a spring's afternoon at Upton Park and Andy Cole, confronted by Ludek Miklosko, has the last-gasp chance to win the Premier League title for United. "Just lift it, Andy," they shouted. Or words to that effect. But Cole hits it low at Miklosko, who saves. United draw and Blackburn Rovers are the champions.
That was when title races were title races, when they went to the wire or, at the very least, made it into May. United's canter to their 20th championship has been a very different story, one that has been marked by a remarkable absence of stress. The demons of Upton Park will always gnaw away at Sir Alex Ferguson but when they threatened to reappear here, after West Ham United scored wonderful goals, United swatted them away. The truth was that even a defeat would hardly have mattered.
United have come to trade in extreme end-of-season luxuries. Their target now is not only to win but to do so in historic style and despite these dropped points, they could still better Chelsea's record 95 points from 2004-05. When they stand to be crowned is also on the agenda. It could be on Sunday week at Arsenal, which would be particularly sweet for Robin van Persie. United roll on, remorselessly.
West Ham have enjoyed their own sort of comfort this season. The script for newly promoted teams, particularly those that wriggle up via the play-offs, calls for frayed nerves and regular dips in and out of the relegation plunge pool. But West Ham, perhaps surprisingly for a club with a recent addiction to chaos, have remained above the relegation battle, barely once being mentioned as candidates to slip down.
Allardyce merits credit for overseeing the steadiness. Before the play-off final against Blackpool at the end of his first season in charge, there had been the genuine feeling among the West Ham support that he should be sacked if the team lost. But he got the job done and these days he has the fans' acceptance, at the very least, if not their outright love for his style.
If many of his players fit a particular profile, they are certainly united behind him. They talk glowingly of his attention to detail and it was evident in his set-up here, in a tactical duel that he would have relished against his hero Ferguson. He pushed Mohamed Diamé and Kevin Nolan high on to United's defensive midfielders, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick, and his team carried the fight. Allardyce has made West Ham competitive.
United expected an aerial bombardment and balls up to Andy Carroll were a feature of the West Ham strategy. The tall striker put it about with Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and, shudderingly so, David De Gea.
Ferguson jabbed his finger as he advanced his protest to the fourth official, Andre Marriner, after De Gea had been cleaned out by Carroll following a 45th-minute corner.
The home team's finesse, though, was apparent, whether in Carroll's early threaded shot that kissed the outside of the far post or the sight of Ricardo Vaz Te tricking outrageously out of a tight spot inside his own area. Their opening goal was not bad, when they broke from the edge of their box. There was the drive of Diamé; a stop-start move from Matt Jarvis to flummox Ferdinand; Carroll's aerial power and Vaz Te's anticipation. And the second, from Diamé's left-footed curler, was a peach.
Carroll's future is a pressing issue for West Ham and his all-action display provided further evidence as to why. His willingness to battle against the hardest centre-halfs not only endears him to supporters. His team-mates relish the out-ball to him and his hold-up work allows them to squeeze up the pitch. His loan from Liverpool expires at the end of the season and Allardyce has suggested that his wage demands, allied to financial fair play, could make it impossible to make the move permanent.
And what of Allardyce, who has still to sign his contract extension? The club maintain that there will be no problems, that it is merely a matter of time and yet it has dragged and Allardyce says that he has to be sure of his ability to compete in the summer transfer market before he commits. There has also been the notion that he has wanted to wait until West Ham have 40 points. That could happen here on Saturday against Wigan.
United's focus was formidable. It has sustained them this season and on each occasion that they fell behind their response bristled with conviction. Shinji Kagawa's balance to tee up Antonio Valencia's goal was beautiful and the second equaliser had been extensively trailed, even if Van Persie might have been marginally offside before he struck his 25th of the season. There was no dramatic finale for United. The job had been done.