13 May 2007
Manchester United 0-1 West Ham United
The Championship play-off may be globally renowned as the most lucrative domestic club game on the planet.
But with the number crunchers reckoning that the victors stand to win anything from £30m-£50m, then on the other side of the balance sheet, the sorry teams plummeting through the Premier League trap door stand to lose in equal measure.
After seeing the West Ham United playing squad decimated by their 2003 relegation, defeat at Old Trafford on the final day of the 2006/07 season would have undoubtedly left the East Enders facing another major rebuilding exercise back in the dark depths of the Championship.
That Alan Curbishley's men could even go into 'Survival Sunday' clutching a lifeline was a mini-miracle in itself, following a woeful winter of discontent that had left bottom-placed West Ham ten points adrift of safety at the beginning of March with just nine games remaining.
But an amazing run of six wins from their next eight matches lifted the in-form Hammers into 17th spot - three points ahead of wobbling Wigan Athletic - with just that daunting visit to newly-crowned champions Manchester United left to play.
Languishing in 18th spot, Wigan (Pts: 35. Goal Difference: -23) were, ironically, playing at 16th-placed Sheffield United (Pts: 38. GD: -22) realising they simply had to win their final game to survive, while the Hammers (Pts: 38. GD: -25) knew that they needed to take at least one point off the champions to guarantee their own survival.
And in a final twist in the tale, Neil Warnock's rapidly blunting Blades also knew they would depart the Premier League if they lost to Paul Jewell's side and the Hammers returned from the Theatre of Dreams unscathed.
It could not have been a more daunting proposition for West Ham United as they kicked-off in front of 75,927 fans packed to the rafters and baying for the Reds to avenge all those spanners that the Hammers had so aggravatingly hurled into the United works during the Reds' championship chases of years gone by.
There was also the small matter of Hammers' shock victory over Sir Alex Ferguson's side at Upton Park in Alan Curbishley's first game at the helm. East End nerves were jangling when Wayne Rooney sent an early screamer inches over, while Yossi Benayoun's double goal-line clearance from Alan Smith and Kieran Richardson also made for an uneasy opening.
Meanwhile, across the Pennines, Paul Scharner's opener for Wigan had plunged Sheffield United into the drop-zone before Jon Stead's brave, equalising header put Wigan back in trouble.
Events at Bramall Lane, however, were quickly overtaken when Bobby Zamora nodded on Robert Green's huge drop-kick before playing a neat one-two with Carlos Tevez, who sneaked between his international team-mate Gabriel Heinze and Wes Brown to slot in his seventh goal of the season, on the stroke of half-time.
Earlier in the season, the Argentinian ace could not have scored a goal for all the corned beef in Buenos Aires but now those South American shooting boots had again yielded a meaty dividend. As well as creating high drama at the Theatre of Dreams, Tevez's strike had even greater ramifications over in Steel City, where United's Phil Jagielka had handled, allowing ex-Hammer and former Blade David Unsworth to blast in from the penalty spot to send Wigan into an interval lead and leave Sheffield United - now destined for the drop - in deep, deep trouble.
Following a blank opening to the second period at Old Trafford, Sir Alex introduced Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo to set up a frantic finale that saw John O'Shea's penalty appeal waved away before Ronaldo's downward header was saved by the busy Robert Green.
With seconds remaining, the acrobatic Hammers goalkeeper also palmed over Scholes' late sizzler moments before referee Martin Atkinson called time on both Sir Alex's frustrated champions and sinking Sheffield United. The Hammers - having assured their Premier League future with a defiant double over the Reds - had pulled off the greatest of great escapes.
West Ham United: Green, Neill, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney (Spector 28), Benayoun, Reo-Coker, Noble, Boa Morte, Tevez (Mullins 82), Zamora (Harewood 63).
Subs not used: Walker, Davenport.