Substitute Robin van Persie salvaged a replay for Manchester United with a stoppage-time goal in a 2-2 draw to spoil a dream West Ham return for Joe Cole in their FA Cup third-round tie at Upton Park.
United, who lead the Premier League by seven points at the halfway mark but have not won football's oldest cup competition since 2004, took the lead through Tom Cleverley after a wonderful sweeping counter-attack in the 23rd minute, but the returning debutant Joe Cole picked out James Collins who restored parity four minutes later.
The West Ham pair combined again in almost identical fashion for Collins to grab his second in the 59th minute as the hosts eyed a famous Cup victory, but van Persie came off the bench to grab a dramatic equaliser in added time to rescue a replay for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
David De Gea made his eighth successive start in the United goal – the longest run either he or Anders Lindegaard have enjoyed all season – while Joe Cole made his second debut for the Hammers following his move from Liverpool.
Ferguson’s side came into the match having won four of their last six matches in the FA Cup when away to fellow Premier League teams, and they very nearly went in front in the 19th minute as 18-year-old full-back Dan Potts, recalled from a loan spell at Colchester, cleared off the line to deny Nemanja Vidic a headed goal.
United took the lead four minutes later, however, as Javier Hernandez raced down the right and cut the ball back for Cleverly, who produced an exquisite curled finish into the far corner of the net from just inside the West Ham box. It was United’s 70th goal of the campaign.
The visitors could not preserve their slender advantage for long, and a pinpoint cross from Joe Cole out on the left picked out Collins, who rose imperiously to head beyond De Gea and level for the Hammers.
There were vociferous appeals for a penalty from the home fans and players as captain Kevin Nolan went down under a clumsy challenge from Vidic in the United box midway through the first half, but referee Martin Atkinson waved away the appeals dismissively.
It was end-to-end as both sides pressed forward at every opportunity to end the first half, and Danny Welbeck forced Jussi Jaaskelainen to make a smart stop after cutting in from the left to fire a low shot on target from an acute angle.
Within minutes of the second half, Cleverley was presented with a good chance to restore United’s lead and double his tally as the ball broke loose to him inside the West Ham box after fine work from Welbeck outwide, but the midfielder could only fire his shot over the crossbar.
After a low key start to the second half, Upton Park suddenly came to life on the hour mark as Cole whipped over another perfect delivery from the left for Collins, who rose again to head beyond De Gea and double his tally to give West Ham the lead.
The second Hammers goal prompted Ferguson to make a double change with van Persie and Antonio Valencia introduced at the expense of Hernandez and Paul Scholes, respectively, and United proceeded to pile the pressure on their hosts.
Welbeck squandered a glorious chance to equalise in the 73rd minute as he climbed above James Tomkins to meet Alexander Buttner's cross from out on the left, but he headed over the bar from close range with just Jaaskelainen to beat.
West Ham missed a fine opportunity to extend their lead in the dying minutes as substitute Mark Noble headed a long ball from Collins down to Nolan inside the United box, only for the midfielder to scuff his shot with Carlton Cole then turning the ball wide from close range. The hosts would be left to rue the miss moments later.
There was still just time for United to grab a dramatic equaliser to rescue a replay in stoppage time as Giggs made up for a poor missed header minutes before to play a quite brilliant ball over the top of Tomkins's head to pick out Van Persie, and the Dutch striker then kept his cool to slam the ball beyond Jaaskelainen and into the far corner of the net. It was an emphatic finish and it earned his side a replay in thrilling fashion.
MAN OF THE MATCH
James Collins - West Ham: The defender was denied a match-winning contribution following his two very well-taken headed goals, and he almost led his side through the final stages to claim a famous win until van Persie netted the stoppage-time equaliser.
WEST HAM: Jaaskelainen 6, Demel 6, Collins 8, Tomkins 7, Potts 7, Diarra 6, Nolan 7, Collison 7, Joe Cole 8, Vaz Te 5, Carlton Cole 6. Subs: Jarvis 7, Taylor 6, Noble 6.
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 6, Rafael 6, Evans 6, Smalling 7, Buttner 6, Vidic 6, Scholes 6, Cleverley 8, Kagawa 6, Welbeck 6, Hernandez 6. Subs: Valencia 6, Giggs 7, Van Persie 7.