United’s powers of recovery should never be doubted – but even so all appeared lost seconds before substitute Robin van Persie struck a late leveller in the dying embers of this tie at Upton Park as the Reds lurched toward an FA Cup third round exit.
Sir Alex's side's neat attacking play had warranted a first-half lead through Tom Cleverley, but while United tried to rule with possession West Ham commanded with power and presence, as Joe Cole twice assisted headers either side of half time for towering Hammers centre-back James Collins.
The tie looked over, then two substitutes combined to earn a replay. Ryan Giggs, who seconds earlier had missed a golden opportunity to head United level, produced a sublime pass that was received with equal aplomb by van Persie and, once his sights were trained on goal, his stoppage-time finish inevitably ended in only one outcome.
The Reds have had mixed fortunes in the cups against West Ham in recent times. The often-referenced fourth round defeat in January 2001, in which Paolo Di Canio scored the winning goal as Fabian Barthez stood arm aloft claiming offside, was an obvious disappointment. But two years later United exacted revenge with a 6-0 hammering at Old Trafford – Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy grabbed two goals each, with Phil Neville and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also in on the act.