United on wrong end of a rout

 

ENGLISH LEAGUE CUP QUARTER-FINALS: WEST HAM UTD 4 MANCHESTER UNITED 0:MAYBE THIS was the evening the manager labelled ‘Avram Can’t’ by the sceptical Upton Park faithful convinced them that, indeed, he can.

West Ham were magnificent in knocking out Manchester United, who had not lost a League Cup tie since Coventry defeated them in September 2007. Grant, their Israeli manager, deserves maximum credit for taking his club to a first semi-final in this competition in 21 years.

From the team that routed Blackburn Rovers 7-1 at Old Trafford the only surviving starter was Anderson, and Alex Ferguson did not require Dimitar Berbatov – who claimed five of Saturday’s goal – or Wayne Rooney to make the journey south. For Grant this outing was all about maintaining momentum following the weekend’s 3-1 win at home to Wigan, only the second Premier League win for the bottom-placed club.

Grant said ahead of kick-off: “It was nice to have a convincing victory. I am very happy we could give the supporters something to cheer. I hope and I am sure that this is only the beginning. We are now focused on tonight’s game against Manchester United and the players will want to continue the excellent form they have shown in the Carling Cup this season.”

Come the break his team certainly had, though it was the visiting United who came closest to opening the scoring. Gabriel Obertan thought he had done the business after unloading a low shot across Robert Green when inside the area, but the keeper’s dive and outstretched hand pushed the ball on to his right post, and James Tomkins hacked the rebound away.

The French winger’s cleverness was further illustrated after nine minutes when he moved inside from his wide left berth to slide an inviting ball in front of Green that demanded a finish, but no colleague was in attendance.

If Grant and the Upton Park congregation feared an onslaught Victor Obinna, who was operating off Carlton Cole, and Jonathan Spector were about to let the holders know this was going to be a real fight.

First the Nigeria striker, who scored a first league goal for the club against Wigan, slickly collected and cut into United’s area before passing to Pablo Barrera. The Mexican did well to find Radoslav Kovac but his attempt from around 20 yards was blasted over.

Then, after 16 minutes, Obinna thought he had doubled his West Ham tally when finishing beyond Tomasz Kuszczak and Mark Clattenburg appeared to give the goal. But the assistant referee flagged correctly to disallow the strike as the ball had deflected off Spector, who was offside.

This had the home support incandescent. But moments later their mood began lifting as the American-Nigerian combo got down to work. Obinna flipped up a ball that looped into the area from the left and Spector ghosted in to leave Darren Fletcher flailing and head beyond Kuszczak for only a second senior goal.

Ryan Giggs was unable to employ his head to similar effect when subsequently presented with a sight of Green’s goal after Javier Hernandez crossed from the left.

Spector, though, by half-time might just have produced the best 45 minutes of an often erratic career. The former Manchester United trainee created and scored a second of the tie with, again, a vital cameo from Obinna.

The 24-year-old American again decided to run at the visitors. After forcing them to back off he played in Obinna and when he was challenged Spector, who had continued on, took the rebound and smashed it beyond Kuszczak.

Obinna also forced the Polish keeper to save sharply low to his left before the break before West Ham walked off to cheers from fans convinced they were about to knock out the winners of this trophy for the past two seasons.

Ferguson replaced Bebe with Federico Macheda for the second half. His players responded initially, with Darren Fletcher unable to keep one attempt from distance low enough to trouble Kuszczak.

But, on 56 minutes, United’s hopes of clawing the lead back were extinguished. Obinna raced down the left before standing the ball up for Cole. His leap beat Jonny Evans, his header gave Kuszczak no chance. Dreamland then became tinged with delirium for Grant and his band when Cole added his second.

Obinna, almost inevitably, was the provider yet again. He slid the ball into the England striker and Cole turned to remove the hapless Evans as a factor and fire home. That was 4-0 and United’s 29-match unbeaten run was over.

Guardian Service

WEST HAM UTD:Green, Faubert, Tomkins (Reid 74), Upson, Ben-Haim, Barrera (Hines 76), Kovac, Spector, Boa Morte, Cole (Stanislas 89), Obinna. Subs not used: Boffin, Parker, McCarthy, Piquionne. Booked: Reid.

MANCHESTER Utd: Kuszczak, O’Shea, Smalling, Evans (Brown 72), Fabio Da Silva (Rafael Da Silva 65), Obertan, Fletcher, Anderson, Giggs, Hernandez, Bebe (Macheda 46). Subs not used: Amos, Park, Carrick, Eikrem.

Referee:Mark Clattenburg (Tyne Wear).

Attendance: 33,551