As the full-time whistle went and Manchester United’s players rushed to celebrate with David De Gea, it was impossible not to be drawn to the forlorn figure cut by Mark Noble 25 yards away.
The West Ham midfielder, brought on with the sole purpose of converting the penalty that would have earned David Moyes’ team a deserved draw, must have wished a sinkhole had suddenly appeared in the London Stadium pitch to swallow him up.
Eventually he walked to a number of team-mates, including pulling up Declan Rice from a disconsolate position on the turf, before heading down the tunnel with his head bowed.
From West Ham’s point of view it was an undeniably cruel ending to a game in which they matched United in every department. But it is also fair to ask if the decision to bring the 34-year-old on cold was wise and just considering what happened two months ago.
Ten weeks on from England manager Gareth Southgate bringing on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to take high-pressure penalties, it seemed like that cruel lesson was not heeded in East London. Moyes said the European Championship final entered his mind before bringing Noble on and he checked with the club captain to make sure he was in the right frame of mind.
Noble is among the finest penalty takers of the Premier League era, the fourth-highest scorer from 12 yards with 27 from 31 previous attempts, and he was up against a goalkeeper who had last kept one out in 2016 and conceded his previous 40.
It seemed inevitable, then, that he would be unable to convert.
Moyes said that it was solely his decision and if Rice, who would have taken the attempt otherwise, had missed he would have felt even worse.
“He’s one of the best penalty takers we’ve got,” Moyes said. “My choice, my decision. That’s what happens in management, you have to make big decisions. “I thought we had a really good penalty taker on the bench. I’d have been more disappointed in myself if I hadn’t made the decision and another player missed. Decision-making can always be right or wrong.”
West Ham contributed an equal share to a remarkable game in which the hosts led through Said Benrahma’s heavily deflected strike on the half hour. Cristiano Ronaldo levelled from close range five minutes later before both sides spurned chances.
Then, with a minute of normal time to go, Jesse Lingard, who emerged from the bench to an ovation from both sets of fans, worked an angle past the outstanding Kurt Zouma before firing past Lukasz Fabianski. It was a fantastic winner and he deserves credit for celebrating so voraciously in front of the travelling support when many players would have marked the moment silently out of respect for a former flame.
The Lingard narrative alone, coming off the back of his error against Young Boys in the Champions League on Tuesday evening, was enough to makes head spin but when Andriy Yarmolenko’s cross from the right was handled by Luke Shaw in the second minute of added time and referee Martin Atkinson, who had already turned down solid penalty claims at both ends, jogged over to the pitchside monitor there was little doubt that the hosts would be given a last-gasp chance to regain parity.
Rice picked up the ball and looked across to the touchline, where Noble was getting ready in a hurry. When he came on, for Jarrod Bowen, a roar of encouragement went up. “I felt down and out and expected to come home with a point,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the United manager, said.
Then there was silence as Noble placed the ball on the spot, shuffled a little to his left and strode forward to strike. The attempt was on target but telegraphed and De Gea got down well to save – the first of 40 penalties he has successfully kept out.
It was the fifth miss of Noble’s career and considering how infrequently he is expected to feature in this final campaign there may not be another. But of far more concern to Moyes will be the fact it is West Ham’s fourth miss from five and his squad lacks another confident finisher from 12 yards.
“I’m concerned, we don’t necessarily have a natural,” Moyes said. “It’s an easy one to work on in training but in a match…” Finding a player who is capable is now a necessity.
Source by Football London