Captaincy choices can be polarising and don't expect to see Alex Song don the armband for West Ham again. He was booked after 131 seconds and culpable for Manchester United's second goal. Wayne Rooney thought he had ended a chastening week with United's opener and, initially, displayed the leadership credentials that persuaded Louis van Gaal to name him skipper. Then Stewart Downing intervened.
Violently and deliberately, Rooney hacked the winger down in the 59th minute as Downing attempted to initiate a counter-attack from inside his own half. Rooney will argue it wasn't a goalscoring opportunity but his kick could provide the pictorial definition for "violent conduct". Two-one up but under the cosh, it was his first red card in nearly three years and first United dismissal in five-and-a-half.
Rooney departed the victim in the immediate aftermath. Applauded as he trudged down the tunnel, referee Lee Mason was labelled a "wanker" and a "Scouse bastard" for having the temerity to flourish the red card. Rooney is cut an inordinate amount of slack by coaches, staff and supporters inside Old Trafford but those supporters that hollered his name will wince when they see the replays.
Not a week seems to pass by without Rooney's role in the United side coming under considerable scrutiny and Van Gaal will be without him until the Manchester derby at City on 2 November. His loss is Juan Mata's gain, although the choice to promote Rooney ahead of others will rumble on. His anger has been simmering since he inherited the armband; erupting volcanically at referees and even his teammates. Carded by Mark Clattenburg for pointlessly debating Tyler Blackett's foul on Jamie Vardy last week, he had all but deafened Mason before that heinous swing of a right boot. It would be blinkered to suggest his outburst of rage was an anomaly.
Rooney perhaps received more flak than any of his teammates following the Leicester debacle last week yet he has scored three goals in as many Old Trafford games this campaign. That impact will be missed.
Song, deputising for the recovering Kevin Nolan and absent Mark Noble, seemed as desperate to curtail his afternoon as he was his World Cup in the summer but his transgressions paled into insignificance. The game was not two minutes old and he had already hacked down Ángel di María twice. That wasn't captaincy material and Rooney's strike reflected especially well on him when he delicately volleyed past Adrián in the fifth minute.
United are as vulnerable as they are unpredictable right now, though. As Van Gaal's predecessor might have said, they don't make it easy for themselves and at times they looked like they could inflict a record defeat upon West Ham or lose to their visitors.
The supporters were put through the wringer for 36 unsettled minutes as United clung on for three points with 10 men. Old Trafford has often sounded cacophonous over the last year and the final shrill was greeted rapturously. This was a tough test for a makeshift United rearguard in inauspicious circumstances and they passed it.
Rooney will not want to remember this afternoon but Patrick McNair will. The 19-year-old debutant's sensational goal-saving header late in the second-half denied West Ham a certain point and propelled United up to seventh, dashing memories of his fretful first-half. The teenager, Daley Blind and Rafael da Silva lead with a controlled aggression that is beyond Rooney.
"You have to fight, fight and another fight," Van Gaal said. "I am very pleased with the attitude of my players." Except one.
McNair looked understandably nervous. His first touch in professional football was a hoof and he then played an uncertain backpass to David de Gea. Within seconds of Rooney's opener Enner Valencia ghosted into the space vacated by McNair and Marcos Rojo but blazed over. Despite a portentous start, West Ham had reason for optimism against such a soft-centred United defence.
Ballyclare-born McNair did display a confidence carrying the ball forward once associated with his compatriot, Jonny Evans. The Stretford End urged him on in a 13th minute burst, though the nosebleed soon started. Listed as a midfielder on the United website, his composure on the ball in the middle third was much more evident than nearer his own area.
Radamel Falcao is the first of United's new signings to have his name serenaded but there is a surrogate homage to Di María every time Ryan Giggs' Robin Hood chant is aired. Falcao, selfless, was alert to capitalise on Adrián's dismal clearance and the lax Song to play in Van Persie. The Dutchman deceived Winston Reid and beat the goalkeeper with a low right-footed finish.
United's failure to register a three-goal cushion was pivotal at the King Power Stadium and West Ham denied them the luxury again. De Gea, usually faultless in the air these days, sparked a panicky goalmouth scramble that gifted Diafra Sakho a second goal in a week eight minutes before the pause and, suddenly, West Ham's forwards were encouraged to impose their physicality on the scrawny McNair.
"Fucking shit," was one United fan's verdict of an unimaginative pass from Rojo early in the second-half. West Ham sensed the nerves spread around United like a virus. Shaw, scarcely tested before the pause, allowed Sakho a free volley at the far post that tested De Gea and the hosts barely survived a goalmouth scramble seconds later.
Then Rooney butchered Downing. Old Trafford has found its defiant voice over the last year and it rose to the occasion again. West Ham pummelled United, McNair emerged the hero and Nolan had a goal chalked off for offside. Time ran out.
"Superman linesman's X-ray vision," Allardyce moaned. "The assistant referee has dropped a massive bollock." But United showed balls.Suggest a correction