Ryan Giggs rolled back the years and produced a vintage performance as United moved into the fourth round of the FA Cup after an insipid 1-0 win against West Ham at Old Trafford. The Welshman was one of the few positives of a game in which United never really got going and risked more than they would have liked.
With a trip to White Hart Lane looming large on the horizon, the return from injury of Nani, Wayne Rooney and Anderson meant that despite ringing 10 changes from Sunday’s win against Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson could still afford the luxury of fielding a strong-looking team.
Rafael was the only survivor from the weekend, with Smalling, Jones and Buttner completing the back four in front of Lindegaard, Giggs, Anderson, Valencia and Nani in midfield with Rooney and Hernandez up-front.
United were ahead with the first chance of the game, as Anderson marked his return with a superb through ball for Hernandez that split West Ham’s defence wide open, allowing the Mexican to roll the back into Wayne Rooney’s path who dutifully obliged by scoring of the easiest goals of his career.
It was the 66th consecutive time United had scored at Old Trafford against an English opposition, but it was also the almost only highlight of an incredibly dull first half, in which the visitors were too timid to cause any troubles to the home side, while United were totally out rhythm. Nani, in particular, looked well short of match-fitness, perhaps unsurprisingly due to his spell on the sideline, but the Portuguese doesn’t look the player he was last season.
Nor, for that matters, does Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian seems to have lost the spark that had made him arguably the best winger in the league and United will need their wingers to deliver the goods if they’re to be successful this season.
Just before halftime Rooney tried to add to his tally, but Jaaskelainen did well to keep out the United striker’s shot as the game lingered on with both teams and fans seemingly slumbering into a cold-induced trance on and off the pitch. The state of United support at home these days is, to describe it with mild words, a sorry mess and it was embarrassingly bad at times tonight.
The match somewhat improved after the break, mainly thanks to West Ham persistence as they looked for an equaliser. Unfortunately for them, they did so more through sheer will than through an organised effort.
United, though, could have buried the game with the second half barely three minutes old but Hernandez missed a glorious chance one-on-one with Jaaskelainen, after Diarra’s calamitous defending had freed the Mexican in the box. Chicarito was denied by Jaaskelainen fifteen minutes later as he couldn’t muster a strong enough shot to beat the Finnish keeper after another great run from Rafael.
The Brazilian, along with fellow full-back Buttner, delivered another excellent performance, that included a goal-line clearance and a stroke of luck as referee Phil Dowd turned down a penalty appeal against Rafael who had seemingly handballed the ball in the box.
Carrick and Scholes replaced Anderson and Nani, and it was United that found themselves on the right end of a penalty decision twelve minutes from time, when Ryan Giggs produced another fantastic run before his cross brushed against Spence’s outstretched arm.
Wayne Rooney, though, could not convert, as he ballooned his effort over the bar, not the first time his penalty taking has been found wanting in his United career.
The outcome of the games was ultimately not affected by Rooney’s miss as United saw off West Ham’s late efforts to book themselves a date with Fulham in the fourth round. And those that had decided to spend their Wednesday night at Old Trafford – singing or not – were finally put out of their cold misery.