West Ham vs Man Utd FA Cup Third Round (Replay on the cards after RVP nets late equaliser)By: Ian | January 6th, 2013
Utd haven’t won the FA Cup since 2004, when the Reds took on the mighty Millwall in the final. It hasn’t really been a priority since, with some tough draws and early exits fairly typical of Utd’s runs in the competition. So Utd took on the challenge of rectifying this disappointing trend in the 2012-2013 competition away at West Ham. A Premier League clash, so at least a ‘giant killing’ wasn’t going to happen. And the way Utd set up, it looked like they were taking this game quite seriously.
Van Persie obviously went to the bench, but Hernandez was present, partnered by Welbeck in the continued injury-absence of Rooney (not his luckiest season is it? – gains a bit of form, then sits out again it seems). Smalling, Evans, Vidic and Buttner was hardly a significantly weakened defence, and a midfield of Rafael, Scholes, Cleverley and Kagawa was perfectly fine for such a match. West Ham were pretty strong too, even though Noble and Jarvis started on the bench.
Let’s start with an overview statement. It was a pretty open game, all things considered. It certainly started that way, after settling down, with Hernandez’s attempt to reach a Smalling cross countered by West Ham’s sincere threat from set pieces resulting in an early goal-line scramble. Scholes kept it out, with Vidic tidying up after a second attempt. An indication, if any were needed, that West Ham were quite capable of contesting this one. We then had one chalked off for offside as Chicharito couldn’t stay onside. The quest for an opener continued with it being West Ham’s turn to kick one off the line as Vidic tried to power in a header from a corner. Credit to young Potts for that.
It was on the 23rd minute of the 90 that the goal came, and it didn’t seem much of a chance at first. Rafael passed to Hernandez, who slid in a pacy grass-level cross across the box from out wide. I expected it to meet a defender at some point, but it didn’t. Instead it fell to Cleverley, who employed the shooting style he seems to favour (shifting his weight to the left and digging into the ball – better seen than explained) and sent it beautifully past Jaaskelainen.
Sadly, it didn’t stay this way for long. Joe Cole, back at his boyhood club and revelling in the freedom of it, sent in a appetising cross four minutes later. It met the head of defender James Collins, who simply directed the header past De Gea. 1-1 with West Ham fair money for it. It was to stay that way right up to half time with Utd’s attacking prowess balanced out by the Hammers’ energy.
Game on after the break with Cleverley blasting one over (his shooting technique doesn’t always work) after Rafael and Welbeck worked some space. But the wasted chances looked to be coming back to haunt the players after Cole, again, crossed, again, for Collins, again, to header past the helpless De Gea…again. You could have been forgiven for thinking you were watching a highlight of the earlier goal – it was the same move. Very effective it was too, sending Utd into a chase for a replay now.
Utd seemed to lack width for me, and every time they pressed, the wall of West Ham players just seemed to solidify and the box was too occupied for any real attacking openings. In an attempt to shake things up, Scholes (who did well to pop the passes around but couldn’t do much about the lack of wingers) and Hernandez (pretty isolated) made way for Valencia and, who else, Van Persie. Utd started aiming for the latter immediately; Buttner seeking the Dutchman from a corner that was headed wide.
Even with the changes, finalised as Giggs switched for Smalling – with Rafael falling back to defence, it really did look as though Utd weren’t going to get a chance to level this one out. Even with their reputation for comebacks, a reputation set in steel-enforced concrete a mile deep after this season, perhaps this was just one game too far. It certainly seemed so after Rafael sent in a glorious cross only for Giggs to head over when he really should have done better. I was watching the game in company and this prompted cries of “Why didn’t he bring on Young instead?”, “Giggs is well past it!” and “******!”
Perhaps Giggs heard them, for he atoned for the error almost instantly, with a swing of the foot that was sensationally, unbelievably, splendidly good. Heading left, the Welshman struck a long, dipping pass towards the surging form of Van Persie away on the right of the West Ham defence. The Dutchman’s first touch was world-class, the second set him up, and the third sent in through the legs of the Hammers’ keeper. It was, from both players, genius made to look easy, and a goal that deserved to win a match. However, Utd will settle for the replay. Date to be determined, but it’s likely to be in between the Liverpool home game and Tottenham away. Two relatively tricky matches on paper there, so it remains to be seen how Utd approach it. Nevertheless, Fergie has reiterated his desire to do better in the tournament, and if Utd boast such strength in depth, why not use it? Well, it’s going to be used, rest assured.
Although not settled from a Utd perspective, I will post again on the fourth round draw after it’s made later today.