Rooney steers United into fourth round
Manchester U 1 West Ham 0:If Manchester United do go on to win their first FA Cup for nine years, then the story of how they overcame West Ham on a freezing night will quickly be lost in the small print.
Alex Ferguson’s men can reflect on a relatively satisfying evening’s work, with a home tie against Fulham in the fourth round to follow, but it was a flat game that will have bittersweet memories for Wayne Rooney.
Ultimately it was his goal that won the tie but he also put a 79th-minute penalty into the Stretford End. It has been a recurring theme over the last year and Ferguson’s expression was close to disdain.
Nobody should be too surprised now if Robin van Persie, kept on the bench here, takes over penalty duties now.
Fortunately for the home side, it was not to be a costly miss. Just as Liverpool took too long to find any momentum in the league fixture here on Sunday, West Ham waited until the second half to offer even the briefest sense that they could cause an upset.
Even then, there were only sporadic moments when they threatened to cancel out that moment, after nine minutes, when Rooney turned the ball in from close range.
It was his ninth goal of the season, quite possibly the easiest and certainly the most poignant, Rooney celebrating by pointing to the skies in a dedication to his wife Coleen’s younger sister, Rosie.
Anderson, another player returning from injury, had started the move with a wonderfully measured through ball, dissecting the entire West Ham defence and leaving Javier Hernandez running clear on goal through the inside-left channel.
Hernandez took a touch to open up the shooting angle but had the presence of mind to realise that Rooney was sprinting through the middle. Once the ball was played across the six-yard area, Rooney just had to make sure he applied a full touch.
The response from West Ham was disjointed and were grateful for Daniel Potts’s goal-line clearance to turn away a Nani shot that was heading inside the post.
Rooney tested the West Ham goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen, with a low drive shortly before the break and three minutes into the second half there was a clear opportunity for Hernandez to make it 2-0. The Mexican eluded Alou Diarra to leave himself one-on-one with Jaaskelainen. A striker with his ability will wince when he sees the replays of how he lifted his shot over the crossbar.
By this stage there had finally been a flicker of life from West Ham and the sense that they might have taken encouragement that there was only one goal to recover. At times they lacked creativity but, unlike the first half, they were at least showing a modicum of ambition.
Vaz Te was becoming more of a threat and there was the vague possibility of a penalty after Rafael Da Silva knocked the ball on to his arm. Perhaps there was also a touch of complacency from Ferguson’s side though it was probably inevitable, too, that some of their players would tire when they have had so little match action recently. A mistake from Phil Jones could have been costly after 61 minutes when Matt Taylor found space inside the penalty area but could not pick out Cole at the far post.
Rooney’s chance to finish the match came after Jordan Spence handled Ryan Giggs’s cross. The shot was high and wide and, standing by the touchline, Ferguson turned away in disgust. In the end, however, West Ham did not have the wit or gumption to make it anything more than a passing irritation for the home side.