Man Utd dig deep to keep cup treble dreams alive
Manchester United found a way to win. They often do. Behind for 23 minutes, facing up to the end of their dream of a cup treble, perhaps exhausted by their efforts against Barcelona and at Wembley, they instead salvaged victory. Alejandro Garnacho’s 90th-minute curler flew past Alphonse Areola and Fred’s 95th-minute strike completed a memorable comeback.
Ten Hagie Time does not quite have the same ring as Fergie Time but the watching Sir Alex Ferguson has seen quite a few late United goals this season. Now Erik ten Hag is reviving a slumbering giant and while Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes lifted the Carabao Cup on the Old Trafford pitch before kick-off, it may not be the last silverware they have to parade.
But for David Moyes, who never got a major honour in his ill-fated time as United manager, there was further cruelty at Old Trafford. He has famously never won a league game here as a visiting manager, yet it seemed Said Benrahma’s opener had given West Ham hope of ending a 43-year wait to win the FA Cup. However, there will be no 21st-century successor to Trevor Brooking, no Wembley hero just yet. Moyes ended up staring on grim-faced. His week could have brought the sack, instead it yielded a 250th Premier League win, in thrashing Nottingham Forest, but a decent display at Old Trafford produced only defeat.
The other United’s fightback was testament to Ten Hag’s relentlessness. If Moyes had initially seemed to show the greater determination to progress, omitting only Jarrod Bowen from his strongest available side, the Dutchman strengthened United as the game progressed and reaped a reward. A third game in seven days brought wholesale changes and arguably the weakest team Ten Hag had selected since Charlton were the visitors from London back in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. It showed. United began positively but West Ham were the more assured side for much of the opening 45 minutes.
An underwhelming first half prompted Ten Hag to send for Casemiro to replace the booked Scott McTominay. No sooner had Benrahma scored, then Marcus Rashford and Lisandro Martinez were given their instructions. With the scores level and a few minutes to go, Fred came on.
By then, it was one-way traffic. Casemiro brought purpose. United played with added urgency. The Brazilian had a low drive held. Fernandes connected sweetly with a volley that flew over.
Set-pieces brought them back into the game. Briefly, it seemed as though Casemiro, United’s new big lad in the box, had produced an action replay from Wembley. He headed in a free kick – Luke Shaw’s against Newcastle and, with the left-back injured, Fernandes’ against West Ham – and celebrated a goal. This time, however, replays proved him offside.
But a corner instead brought a leveller. Wout Weghorst’s barren run extended to 10 games on a night when he missed chances. Yet he served a purpose as West Ham were distracted by him as the giant Dutchman tried to meet Fernandes’ corner. Instead, with Alphonse Areola leaving his line and punching thin air, Nayef Aguerd did, inadvertently heading into the empty net. For United, denied a league title by Aguero 11 years ago, Aguerd gave them an FA Cup lifeline.
They took it. Extra time was beckoning when Weghorst’s shot was blocked, It fell for Garnacho, who showed greater precision in beating Areola. The teenager may not have started had Jadon Sancho not been ill, but took this chance and his chance wonderfully.
Then Fred sealed a quarter-final spot after an error by Aguerd. Maguire had been the centre-back enduring a torrid time, but the Moroccan’s mistakes proved costly. Fred swept in a shot and slid, face first, on the turf in celebration. From the jaws of defeat, United had a 16th win in 17 home games.
From the prospect of a famous victory, West Ham had a setback. They got one but, in a season when profligacy has been a problem and on a night when they missed the finishing of the cup-tied Danny Ings, perhaps should have had more. David de Gea was presented with a silver glove by Ferguson to mark his 181st United clean sheet, surpassing Peter Schmeichel’s previous club record. He will have to wait a little longer for a 182nd but made two vital stops from Michail Antonio, sent scampering clear on goal by Benrahma and played onside by Maguire in the first half and powering past Martinez and letting fly from an angle in the second. For Maguire, booked for the clumsiest of challenges on Antonio, it was a torrid affair.
He appealed in vain to referee Michael Salisbury to complain about Benrahma’s opener, but his arguments that the ball was out of play before Tomas Soucek found Emerson Palmieri, who in turn picked out the eventual scorer, fell on deaf ears. Sharp on the counter-attack, Benrahma had been West Ham’s brightest player long before he scored and he fizzed a shot past De Gea. That United froze, waiting for a decision that never came, had echoes of Paolo di Canio’s FA Cup winner here for West Ham in 2001.
Yet there was no repeat. Manchester United have just returned from Wembley. They could be back there for an FA Cup semi-final and final.