Louis van Gaal hailed the spirit of his Manchester United side after they came from behind to claim a 1-1 draw in their FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham.
United’s troubled campaign looked to have taken another turn for the worse as Dimitri Payet put the Hammers on course for a Wembley semi-final with a stunning free-kick at Old Trafford.
But unlike in recent defeats to West Brom and Liverpool, United were able to find a response and Anthony Martial’s 83rd-minute equaliser ensured a replay at Upton Park.
Van Gaal said: “For the first 15 minutes I think West Ham were the better team and they created a few chances, but after that we came back into the match.
“We have created chances and in the second half we were the better team. They scored out of a free-kick. We were behind.
“We have played against West Brom and lost, and Liverpool and lost this week, and when you come back from that I think it is amazing, and fantastic spirit in the team, in spite of a very nasty week. I am very proud of my players.
“We are still in three competitions.”
Payet’s 68th-minute free-kick, which beat David de Gea from distance with bend and dip, came out of the top drawer but there was controversy over whether he should still have been on the field. Just moments earlier he had arguably been lucky to escape receiving a second yellow card for diving in the penalty area.
Van Gaal said: “We can discuss every decision of the referee, but I can only say we are very unlucky this season with the decisions of the referee.”
With United trailing, Van Gaal changed the pattern of the game by sending on Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay in a double substitution after 76 minutes.
Of Schweinsteiger’s display, he said: “I think he did fantastically, but of course he played 15 minutes. Ninety minutes is different but I was very happy with him.”
One disappointing aspect for Van Gaal was the crowd’s reaction to the substitution of midfielder Marouane Fellaini, which was loudly cheered.
The Dutchman said: “I think Fellaini played a good match again. He performed well in our gameplan. That was disappointing but that was the only moment I was disappointed with because they were supporting our side in spite of two losses this week.
“Maybe they have another opinion to me.”
Hammers boss Slaven Bilic dismissed suggestions Payet had dived to try to win a penalty.
Bilic said: “A dive? Come on. If you have a screen, show me, I am going to defend my point at Cambridge if needed. There is more than a contact. It is definitely not a dive.”
Bilic also felt goalkeeper Darren Randolph was fouled in the build-up to the equaliser.
He said: “It was (a foul). I don’t want to spoil the game talking about the referees – overall, he did a good job, but there have been a couple of situations, crucial ones, that have gone against us.”
Bilic admitted it was frustrating to have been so close to victory but not hold on.
He said: “In our dressing room after the game it was kind of silent. We are a little but disappointed because we were there the last few minutes and the time when you conceded makes you a little bit down.
“But that is good. It shows you have confidence and are moving in the right direction.”
As for Payet’s goal, Bilic said: “I said to myself, ‘It was a bit too far, De Gea is there, it has got to be special’, and make no mistake it was pure class of magic. It was a perfect goal.”
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