Sam Allardyce is hoping West Ham United can continue to 'grow' following their unbeaten start to 2012.

Saturday's compelling 2-2 with Manchester United in the FA Cup third round followed the New Year's Day victory against Norwich City four days earlier. Allardyce's side came within a minute of making it a perfect start to 2013 against the Red Devils, but Robin van Persie's stunning late strike ensured the teams will meet again in an Old Trafford replay in ten days' time.

"People might look at 2-2 and ask how many chances they missed but they haven't created an awful lot and that for us is a really good thing to build on," Allaryce said. "It is a great effort and after a disappointing December with the injury problems running onto some bad results, we have turned that around against Norwich.

"We had one or two players that have had to be rested with knocks and fatigue. Some have stepped in and done a great job and some are still injured.

"We've also had new players coming in from Liverpool and Arsenal, so hopefully we will grow from here. What we have achieved against Manchester United should give us great confidence."

Central defender James Collins - who headed both of West Ham's goals - admitted after the game that he had mixed emotions following the visitor's late leveller. His manager confessed to similar sentiments but was unsurprised by both the quality and timing of Sir Alex Ferguson's dramatic late strike.

"We all know it's Manchester United and it's 2-1 and we know what they can do and what they have done in the past in the final throes of a game. They have the mental capacity to continue to carve out chances when most important. They had to do it by one of the classiest goals you will see this season.

"I can't criticise anyone for the quality of Giggs' throughball or van Persie's first touch and finish. It was so silky and smooth. They scored before we knew it, in a split second, from the ball being on the halfway line and in a non-dangerous position with us having seven or eight behind the ball."

van Persie's goal was all the harder to take after Big Sam's side so nearly made it 3-1 seconds earlier as both Matt Taylor and Carlton Cole could not quite turn in Matt Jarvis' dangerous cross. The late chance perfectly summed up West Ham's potent attacking play, which caused Sir Alex Ferguson's side problems throughout the match.

"We went to the other end and Jarvis produced a cross with three players in the box to score the third in the 88th or 89th minute. Matt Taylor should have scored and Carlton Cole almost scored. That was us. We did not sit back and try and play the game out.

"United played by throwing everyone forward and we exploited the spaces. The difference is in split seconds. They were dead and then a minute or two later, it was bang, bang, goal."

The teams will now contest a replay at Old Trafford on Wednesday 16 January, with the prize for the winners a home tie with either Fulham or Blackpool in round four. The Hammers' hopes of staging a memorable FA Cup victory in Manchester could be boosted not just by the availability of new signings Joe Cole and Marouane Chamakh, but also the return from injury of key players Momo Diame and Andy Carroll.

"We are still in the hat. I always think players look forward to the FA Cup because it is less mental strain than the Premier League and we showed that.

"I think Andy and Momo will be very close to making the return leg. It's great having Jack Collison back after not playing since Wembley and Ricardo Vaz Te back from 12 weeks out along with Joe and Chamakh, who hopefully we can get to his potential. We have to get the squad as fit as it can be for a mammoth January.

Joe Cole marked his second debut for West Ham with two assists and his manager is now looking forward to seeing if he can once again deliver on a regular basis for his boyhood club. And judging by the reaction of the Boleyn Ground faithful, they too are also excited about what could lie ahead for the returning Hammers No.26.

"We know Joe has it in the locker. You don't play for Chelsea and win the league, the FA Cup and play for England 56 times if you don't. The fans made him feel good.

"It made him feel good when he ran on how they welcomed him, and more importantly even better when he came off, with even bigger applause and a bigger cheer for what he's done. A player feeling good about who he is playing in front of is a massive bonus."

QPR