Carling Cup – West Ham hit four to dump out United
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Jonathan Spector grabbed a first-half brace to stun his former side with the only goals of his entire career in English football as United were punished for some alarmingly sloppy defending.
Carlton Cole grabbed a third in the 56th minute for the buoyant Hammers, then added his second just after the hour mark to send Avram Grant’s side through to their first League Cup semi-final for 21 years with the Premier League table turned on its head. The harrowing defeat also ended United’s longest unbeaten run in 11 years.
As expected, Sir Alex Ferguson shook things up by making 10 changes, while Grant also seized the opportunity to rest key players with six as the likes of the talismanic Scott Parker were confined to the substitutes’ bench.
There were a few whisps of snow in the air as the match got underway, and Robert Green prevented his side being caught cold as early as the seventh minute with a fine reflex stop to tip Gabriel Obertan‘s rasping low drive onto the far post.
Referee Mark Clattenburg’s involvement was shrouded in doubt earlier in the evening as he was stuck in heavy traffic but, having just made it to the ground in time for kick off, the official was at the centre of controversy in the 16th minute as the hosts had a goal chalked off.
Victor Obinna let fly from the edge of the United box, only for the ball to deflect off Spector, who was in an offside position, and beyond Tomasz Kuszczak with an exceptionally late offside flag bringing the hosts’ celebrations to an abrupt halt. The crowd were still absolutely incensed by the decision as play finally resumed, but six minutes later they were jubilant.
Again it was the excellent Obinna who represented the livewire in the final third, and his delightful dink into the United box found Spector, who managed to get in front of the leaden-footed Darren Fletcher to head beyond Kuszczak.
Ryan Giggs’s returned to pick up the armband a day after his 37th birthday, and the United skipper squandered a glorious chance to level just after the half hour as he could only head tamely straight at Green from Javier Hernandez’s pinpoint delivery.
United’s defending was shoddy in the first half, and Ferguson was apoplectic with rage in the 37th minute as Spector doubled his tally against his former club with a composed finish to exploit more slack marking following a slick exchange with Obinna.
The United manager no doubt dished out a fearful rollicking to his ineffectual players at the break and promptly hauled off Bebe, with Federico Macheda introduced at his expense.
Green, who on the whole excelled in tricky conditions for both keepers, then had a moment of madness as he drove a low clearance needlessly against the gormless Macheda, but was able to spare his own blushes, smothering the ball at the feet of Hernandez.
The Hammers then breached the visitors’ defence for a third time in the 56th minute: Obinna was once again the architect with a fine run and cross from the left, and Cole dived in front of Jonny Evans to convert with a fine header.
West Ham were making a mockery of the United defence time and again, and Obinna skipped past Fabio’s replacement and brother Rafael to tee up Cole, who spun past the hapless Evans with embarrassing ease before lashing a clinical strike beyond Kuszczak.
Ferguson hauled off a crest-fallen Evans as Wes Brown was introduced with the sole intention of shoring up a beleaguered back four, but the damage had already been done, prompting an almost exhibition style finish to the game.
The Hammers arrested a run of six successive defeats against United, whose grip on the Carling Cup trophy was relinquished in the most inauspicious fashion.
Dan Quarrell / Eurosport