What ought to have been a commanding victory for United over lowly West Ham was eventually settled only by a Josh Harrop second half goal after a series of goalkeeping and defensive errors had maintained an unlikely balance in this Under 21 Premier League game.
Although the Reds dominated the early stages, it was West Ham who took a surprising lead in the fifteenth minute. Joel Pereira ill-advisedly came off his line in an attempt to claim a ball floated in from a free kick, but Oxford got to it first and his header found its way to the unattended United goal.
Fortunately, the Hammers keeper was in even more generous mood. Just six minutes later, a harmless-looking shot from Harrop somehow evaded Howes’ grasp and sneaked inside the near post to put United back on terms. It didn’t take the Reds long to take the lead. With their next attack, Joe Rothwell outmuscled his marker to latch onto a long pass upfield and this time his clinical finish needed no assistance from the keeper.
United came close to adding a third when Januzaj’s free kick was well saved by Howes and minutes later a goalmouth scramble following a corner ended with Grimshaw firing over the bar. At that point it only looked a matter of time before the Reds extended their lead but, on half-time, a mix-up between Love and Pereira at the back allowed Brown to steal in and give his side their second goal from as many chances.
In the moments before half-time, a Januzaj free kick once again stung the hands of the West Ham keeper, but the visitors went in on level terms, a scoreline to which United’s weaknesses at the back had contributed greatly. Fortunately, the West Ham keeper once again obliged in helping to set matters right. After a first fifteen minutes of a second half in which his side looked more willing to make a game of it, he completely missed the ball when coming out to claim a Januzaj corner and Harrop was at the far post to accept his second gift of the evening.
Minutes later, Januzaj fired over with only the keeper to beat and a Rothwell shot was deflected into the arms of the grateful Howes. At the other end, Cullen headed narrowly over the bar in what was becoming an increasingly open game. United continued to have the better of proceedings, however, and almost put the game to bed with a Wilson volley and a rasping shot from Januzaj, both of which went wide.
There was a minor late scare when Pereira this time managed to get enough of his glove to the ball and turn away a corner in stoppage time. Ultimately, however, the Reds ran out deserving, if narrow, victors.