LONDON: Amid the mayhem of West Ham’s last match at the old Boleyn Ground the one man happiest at the outcome was not there, just following events from a distance.
Pep Guardiola will be leading Manchester City into the Champions League next season as long as his new team mark Manuel Pellegrini’s departure by taking a draw at Swansea as the Premier League season reaches its climax on Sunday.
Manchester United’s hope of seizing the fourth slot behind Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal faded sharply with a 3:2 defeat. The night was unpleasant all round for Louis Van Gaal and his team. Their team bus was attacked on arrival by bottle-throwing hooligans and they left with the prospect of a second season exiled from the Champions League elite.
This prospect is not good news for the Glazer family and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward who had based their financial forecasts on the prospect of finishing third. This is also not good news for Van Gaal who hopes of completing his three-year contract are questionable – never mind United being favourites to win the FA Cup Final.
Guardiola’s spirits will have soared and Van Gaal’s soured in the closing stages after Anthony Martial had scored his second goal of the game to give United a 2-1 lead with 14 minutes to play. Victory would have moved Louis van Gaal’s side back into the top four for the first time since mid-December.
They would only have needed to match City’s result at Swansea in their own season finale at home to Bournemouth. But then two perceptive assists from Dimitri Payet for headed goals by Michail Antonio and Winston Reid turned the game and the Manchester rivalry upside down.
Hence United are two points adrift of City with an inferior goal difference.
Van Gaal conceded the mental upset. He thought Champions League qualification was “still possible” and pointed to the spirited manner in which his players had recovered from Diafra Sakho’s 10th-minute goal
But it was West Ham fans celebrating at the final whistle as they left the old east London ground ahead of the club’s move to the revamped London Olympic Stadium next season. Some of their fans will not be there. West Ham have promised life bans for those hooligans identified as having attacked the United team bus, incidents which delayed kickoff by 45 minutes.
A club statement said: “It was an extraordinary night full of extraordinary moments in front of extraordinary fans, 99pc of whom behaved impeccably and were a credit to the club.
“However, we are aware that there were some supporters outside the Boleyn Ground who didn’t act in an appropriate way when the Manchester United team bus was damaged. That was not acceptable and we will work with the police to identify those responsible and ban them for life.”
The FA will also investigate the trouble.