West Ham 1 Manchester United 2: Manchester United kept their underwhelming season alive by ensuring this most excellent final campaign at Upton Park would contain at least one bitter memory for West Ham.
The curtain will fall and the developers will move in on this century-old stadium at the end of the term while some expect the same to happen to Louis van Gaal’s tenure at Manchester United.
But a place in the semi-final for the 11-time FA Cup winners, who have not won the trophy for 12 years, will certainly strengthen the chances of him keeping his job.
Especially given the manner of their victory at fortress Upton Park, from which West Ham have launched their unlikely assault on the Premier League top four. Before Manchester United arrived last night, they had not lost a game here since August.
But the visitors, inspired by the youth and exuberance of Marcus Rashford who scored the first, sealed their return to the capital to face Everton at Wembley on April 23 with a 2-1 win which only fleetingly looked in doubt.
“I think it is deserved — we handled them well for 85 minutes — but at the end they could have made it a draw and then they would have made it difficult for us in extra time having come back from 2-0 down so it was good to hold on,” Van Gaal said.
On Rashford, Van Gaal added: “It was a great goal, I was behind him on the bench so I saw his view and the gap so I shouted: SHOOT! But it is more difficult to do it. It was a great dribble before hand too. He has that quality so he can score a lot of goals.”
A clash with two Champions League quarter-finals meant that the last FA Cup hurrah kicked off at 7pm.
Wayne Rooney, who has been missing for two months with a knee injury, was only fit enough for a place on the bench and would only emerge to replace Rashford in stoppage time.
The injury had kept the 30-year-old out of the initial tie between these two sides on March 13, when Anthony Martial’s 83rd-minute equaliser insured that this famous old ground would enjoy one final FA Cup night. But the omens were not good for the hosts, who had not beaten Manchester United here in this competition since 1911.
But, given United this time arrived on a run of three defeats in their previous four away games, it was clear who the favourites to reach the semi-final were.
And West Ham started as such. Their form this season has been thanks in no small part to Dimitri Payet and he found his groove early again. But, at the back, West Ham looked open to a counter-attack, which suited the visitors’ three-pronged attack.
Angelo Ogbonna made two crucial first-half blocks to deny Rashford and then Maroune Fellaini when the defence was stretched open. Then only a full-stretch James Tomkins tackle stopped Rashford testing Darren Randolph, the Hammers’ ‘FA Cup keeper’, with a firm angled drive.
The young striker was causing real problems and he teed up Jesse Lingard after a strong run from midfield. However, Randolph saved excellently with his foot to keep his sheet clean in the 35th minute. Having weathered the early storm, it was the away team who looked the most likely scorers.
And so it proved in the 54th minute, although it came out of nothing. There was no danger until Michail Antonio’s pass bounced off Herrera’s knee and into the path of Martial. The Frenchman then fed Rashford who ran at Tomkins before cutting onto his right foot and steering an exceptional finish into the top corner.
Payet had a decent penalty shout turned down and Cheikhou Kouyate tried his luck from range but, for the most part, United were in firm control. And it got even better for them in the 67th minute when Lingard’s cross found Martial at the back post.
His rifled effort, which flicked off Tomkins’ hand, was going wide but Fellaini was on hand to turn the ball home from close range. But it was only last Saturday that the Hammers clawed back a two-goal deficit against Arsenal and, with their place in the semi-final hanging by a thread, it was Tomkins who increased the chances of one final dose of FA Cup magic at Upton Park.
The defender, involved with both United goals, made his mark at the other end when he stooped to head home Carroll’s knock-down.
Carroll almost equalised with a flying header before Kouyate seemed to have brought the tie level with a minute to go. However, he had strayed offside when Carroll’s strike was saved by De Gea, so the flag went up when he nodded the rebound into the net.
West Ham’s bubble had burst but for United, the season remains in flight.
Randolph; Antonio, Ogbonna, Tomkins, Cresswell; Kouyate, Noble; Valencia (Moses 62), Payet, Lanzini (Emenike 74); Carroll.
Subs not used:
Adrian, Obiang, Collins, Hendrie, Oxford.
De Gea; Fosu-Mensah, Smalling, Blind, Rojo (Valencia 67); Carrick, Fellaini; Lingard, Herrera (Schneiderlin 76), Martial; Rashford (Rooney 90).
Subs not used:
Rooney, Romero, Young, Mata, Memphis.
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