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Jan 5, 2013

Robin van Persie saves Man United

Robin Van Persie came off the bench to score a last-minute equalizer as Manchester United rescued a 2-2 draw Saturday at West Ham after Joe Cole had delivered a vintage display on his return to Upton Park in a thrilling FA Cup third-round tie.

Cole, 31, returned to his boyhood club on a free transfer from Liverpool this week, and rolled back the years as he set up a double for defender James Collins with superb crosses from the left flank in each half to turn the tie around after Tom Cleverley had fired United into the lead on 23 minutes.

However, as the clocked ticked into stoppage time van Persie, who had started on the bench, ghosted into the right side of the penalty area, before drilling a low shot into the bottom corner to force a replay.

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he thought it was not going to be Manchester United's day before van Persie's rescue.

"We missed some good chances, with headers over the bar and (Shinji) Kagawa had one blocked on the line, I thought it was not going to be our day," Ferguson said. "But you have to say the pass from Ryan Giggs, then the first touch from the ball from Robin and his finish was world class."

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce admitted it was "more than a tad disappointing" not to have been able to close out what would have been a memorable victory.

"It was just a brilliant goal they scored," he said. "The ball from Ryan Giggs, who smashed a half-volley over James Tomkins' head from about 60 yards, and van Persie's first touch and finish were just unbelievable."

Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez had opened up in attack for the Premier League leaders, who also had Nemanja Vidic and Paul Scholes in the side, with Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia, Giggs and Ashley Young all joining van Persie on the bench in reserve.

It was a bright start by United as Cleverley tried to release Hernandez down the left, but the ball rolled through to West Ham keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.

The hosts were cut open again on nine minutes when Chris Smalling got clear on the right and cut a low pass through the penalty area, which was just in front of Hernandez.

West Ham suddenly burst into life when Guy Demel darted down the right and his cross was put behind. From the resulting corner, Alou Diarra's downward header was nodded off the line by Scholes and Carlton Cole could not put the rebound away as Vidic cleared.

Captain Kevin Nolan, who missed the Premier League win here over Norwich on New Year's Day through suspension, then just failed to get on the end of a flick into the six-yard box from Carlton Cole.

United thought it had gone ahead on 16 minutes when Danny Welbeck swept home a low cross from Hernandez, but the offside flag was up.

West Ham defender Daniel Potts then hacked a goal-bound effort from Vidic off the line after a corner caused more mayhem in the hosts' penalty area.

It was 1-0 to United on 23 minutes. More slick play down the right from Rafael released Hernandez. His low center went all the way across into the path of the advancing Cleverley, who swept a brilliant first-time effort back past the keeper into the bottom corner.

The Irons immediately went on the offensive. Joe Cole's free kick picked out Ricard Vaz Te, but his tame header was straight at the keeper.

Collins showed him how it should be done on 27 minutes as the home side leveled.

The ball was pushed out to Joe Cole on the left, and his floated center was met with a powerful header by center back Collins, which left United keeper David De Gea rooted to the spot as the ball flew into the net.

Even though they soaked up plenty of pressure, the visitors remained dangerous on the break.

Welbeck sprinted away down the left and on into the West Ham penalty area before unleashing a fierce angled drive that Jaaskelainen beat away.

At the start of the second half, Cleverley was found in space on the edge of the area but shot wildly over the bar.

Joe Cole refused to give up on a loose ball at the right side of the penalty area, hooking it back from the goalline and into the six-yard box, where Carlton Cole glanced a header toward the far corner that De Gea collected at full stretch.

West Ham turned the tie around on the hour mark.

Joe Cole was again the provider, as he floated over a perfectly weighted ball from the left that Collins again met with a powerful header into the far corner.

With 23 minutes left, Ferguson had seen enough, making a double change as van Persie and Valencia replaced Hernandez and Scholes.

On 77 minutes, Joe Cole was replaced by Matthew Taylor, leaving to a standing ovation from the home support.

"For us to be losing 2-1 in that game is amazing with the way we played," Ferguson said. "But when you play West Ham you have got to defend those crosses and set pieces, because they are brilliant at that, the best team in the league, but we did not do that."

It was the away fans, however, who were cheering in the final minute as van Persie broke into the right side of the penalty area on to a superb cross-field pass from fellow substitute Ryan, held off Tomkins and expertly drilled the ball into the far corner to force a replay back at Old Trafford.

Ferguson was delighted to have made sure United did not suffer a disappointing early FA Cup exit.

"We want to stay in it and have a go at it this year," Ferguson said. "We have had some terrible draws over the years and been knocked out early and we don't enjoy that."

Information from Press Association was used in this report.

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