Hammers need new home, Red Devils need new identity, says Neil Humphreys
West Ham off to new home, but United must build a new identity
WEST HAM 3
(Diafra Sakho 10, Michail Antonio 76, Winston Reid 80)
MAN UNITED 2
(Anthony Martial 51, 72)
As the last firework exploded across the dark skies of East London, the curtain came down on more than one crumbling football institution.
Farewell Upton Park.
Farewell Louis van Gaal and farewell Manchester United.
The era is over, bar the shouting of the final round of fixtures on Sunday.
The Red Devils could still scrape into the Champions League, via an unlikely Manchester City stumble, but it barely glosses over the decline.
OUTPLAYED: Man United’s Morgan Schneiderlin (in white) loses the midfield battle against Hammers skipper Mark Noble.
West Ham celebrated their final chapter at the Boleyn Ground with a euphoric 3-2 victory yesterday morning (Singapore time), but the symbolic connection between their condemned home and their fallen opponents was unavoidable.
Upton Park is no more. The same could probably be said of Man United.
As the Hammers move to the new Olympic Stadium, the Red Devils will inevitably build a new squad around a new manager.
It'll be the same, but very, very different. Like those condemned castle turrets that greet visitors to Upton Park, United are rusting giants in search of lost lustre.
And the rot set in long before yesterday morning.
Van Gaal had every right to condemn the drunken thugs who showered his team bus with beer bottles and he displayed great dignity in not using the hooliganism as an excuse for defeat.
But, in some ways, he couldn't.
United were leading with only 14 minutes to play. Champions League qualification was within touching distance. Europe beckoned.
But two quick goals were conceded from set-pieces - two marking errors usually associated with playground football, two elementary mistakes that lost a game and defined a season.
Sometimes, the temptation to overanalyse is overwhelming, particularly when it concerns a manager who treats the media with the kind of disdain usually reserved for squashed parasites found beneath one's shoe.
But United can't defend crosses. United can't score enough goals. United failed to register a first-half shot on target for the ninth game of the season. They touched the ball just three times in West Ham's box in the first half.
Van Gaal loves to befuddle, but a clearer picture could not be painted.
Had the visitors not had Anthony Martial and the hosts had a more adept finisher than Andy Carroll, who charges like a bull in search of a matador's red cape, a rugby score was a distinct possibility.
United's descent towards humdrum mediocrity was neatly summed up by two footballers, one of whom wasn't even in the country.
Daley Blind is on a mission to convert any lingering optimists that he is not a centre back. Against West Ham, he played as if wearing a horse's blinkers, with no peripheral vision and an inability to spot elongated strikers with swishing ponytails running in behind him.
At the same time, Bayern Munich were busy snatching Mats Hummels from Borussia Dortmund.
Hummels has greater mobility than Blind, but then so does a traffic cone.
The German centre back was allegedly on vice-chairman Ed Woodward's crumpled shopping list, along with Benfica midfielder Renato Sanches.
Both went to Bayern.
In a past football life, the dynamic duo of David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson might have snared at least one of their designated targets.
But Woodward can't be trusted to buy a pint of beer and a packet of peanuts.
Of course, United's problems are not confined to the defence. Morgan Schneiderlin moved with the confused terror of a lobster dropped into Upton Park's boiling cauldron.
His half-time replacement was Michael Carrick, who made his debut for the Hammers 17 years ago and will be 35 in July. United initially improved with the old man in midfield, but Carrick is hardly a long-term solution.
He wasn't even a short-term one. United still lost the game, along with the plot that disappeared many months ago.
When Upton Park's post-party glow fades, when the rage over the coach busters dissipates, an underlying sense of anti-climax will endure.
United's failure to inspire is less troubling than their increasing irrelevance.
Contrary to prejudiced belief, the English Premier League needs Manchester United just as La Liga needs Barcelona and the Bundesliga needs Bayern Munich.
The Red Devils are loved and loathed in equal measure, fuelling those competing emotions that make the EPL so utterly compelling.
Heroes are redundant without villains. Villains can't thrive without heroes. For decades, United performed both roles admirably.
Now, they are neither here nor there.
Their patchy performance at Upton Park epitomised their current standing. It wasn't excellent or awful, just underwhelming.
United have been many things to many people. They have never been ordinary.
That is perhaps van Gaal and Woodward's most damaging contribution. The more they bungled, the blander United became.
The road to recovery will be a long one.
West Ham are faced with the daunting prospect of building a new home, but United must build a new identity.
The greater challenge rests with the men from Manchester.
LVG: Top-four hopes not gone
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal put on a brave face and refused to blame an attack on his team's bus for the serious setback to his side's Champions League hopes at West Ham yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The gripping 3-2 loss, which was preceded by the United team bus being pelted with cans and bottles outside the east London ground, leaves van Gaal's men needing to beat Bournemouth in their final match on Sunday and hope Manchester City lose at Swansea City if they are to creep into the Premier League's top four.
"No, it is still not gone," van Gaal said of a top-four finish, following the final match of West Ham's 112-year tenure at the Boleyn Ground.
"In the last match of the season, we can pass over Manchester City. They can lose and we can win. Then we are fourth. You can count, I think?"
Van Gaal said to blame the bus attack for the result would have been an "excuse", but he conceded that it could have affected his younger players.
"I have a long experience in football and there are players who don't have the experience," said the 64-year-old Dutchman.
While United still have an FA Cup final date with Crystal Palace to come on May 21, missing out on a top-four place would represent a massive disappointment, but van Gaal believed Swansea could give City a hard battle.
"I don't think it is not likely. In this league, it happens a lot and Swansea have a very good run.
"It is a mental blow for the players but, against Bournemouth, we have to give everything so that we don't give Manchester City a free trip into the Champions League."
Michael Carrick cut a frustrated figure after the loss.
"We have to (stay focused), that's the situation that has presented itself now," the United midfielder told MUTV.
"We were in control of it going into the West Ham game, but we've let it slip. We have to win our last league game now and then see what happens.
"It's no good for us. We got ourselves back in the game and then didn't really help ourselves with giving away free-kicks. We have to be cleverer than that.
"We put ourselves under pressure by letting them put the ball in the box. In the end, that's won them the game and we're very disappointed."
The Football Association announced an investigation after United's bus was pelted with missiles outside the ground, causing a 45-minute delay to the kick-off.
The Metropolitan police said one officer and one member of the public had suffered minor injuries.
United goalkeeper David de Gea also appeared to have objects thrown at him during the game.
United captain Wayne Rooney said that "West Ham as a club will be disappointed with what the fans have done".
A video posted on United midfielder Jesse Lingard's Snapchat account showed several United players sheltering on the floor inside the bus while Lingard mockingly shouted: "Mummy!"
- Wire Services.
ARSENAL (3rd, 68pts)
Arsene Wenger's side are assured of a top-four finish. Their goal difference suggests an automatic place in the Champions League group stage is certain, but the Gunners need a point at the Emirates Stadium against Aston Villa to guarantee it.
MAN CITY (4th, 65pts)
With neighbours Manchester United losing at West Ham, the Citizens need only a draw against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium to ensure new manager Pep Guardiola will be in the Champions League next season, albeit in the final qualifying round.
MAN UNITED (5th, 63pts)
The Champions League was in the Red Devils' hands and they threw it away in the defeat by West Ham yesterday morning (Singapore time). They must beat Bournemouth at Old Trafford and hope Man City lose at Swansea to be in the top four.