West Ham gained revenge for defeat three days ago, eliminating at the first hurdle a Manchester United who have twice been semi-finalists under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. For the closing minutes the manager called on Bruno Fernandes: the move said that the second string he sent out had failed and that the hope now was on his talisman saving the side yet again.
It was not to be. For David Moyes, a former United manager, this was a special win – a first in nine attempts since being sacked by the club – as he saw his men score early, then rely on guts, luck and their wits. Despite Fernandes offering a late show of energy, the visitors motored back to east London with a hard-earned victory and will take on Manchester City in the fourth round.
Solskjær rued United’s sluggishness. “A slow start again and that needs addressing,” the Norwegian said. “They got a goal and after that we played well for long periods, gave it a go and stats don’t mean anything. When you have 27 shots the boys have given it a go.”
He then offered a bizarre take on this as well as the Champions League loss at Young Boys. “We’ve started the season OK apart from we’re out of the cup which isn’t great, and we’ve not had a great result away in Europe,” said the manager.
This return match following Sunday’s 2-1 victory for United saw Solskjær send out a different XI in which the matchwinner then, Jesse Lingard, started, while Moyes retained Jarrod Bowen from a side that had missed out on a late draw when David De Gea saved Mark Noble’s penalty.
Despite the changes the hosts had Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial, Victor Lindelöf, Nemanja Matic and Eric Bailly on the field in front of a 72,468 crowd, the biggest for a Carabao Cup tie here in five years: twin indicators of the club’s upward trajectory.
United’s defence was becalmed. When Bowen collected on the left the ball ricocheted to Alex Kral and the midfielder’s effort appeared to be goalbound before it hit Bailly. Prossimo, anche se, West Ham did score. Ryan Fredericks nutmegged a hapless Alex Telles, drove to the byline, pulled the ball to Manuel Lanzini, who coolly beat Dean Henderson.
“One-nil to the cockney boys,” sang the jubilant Irons fans who watched as Solskjær’s men were stung into action, Lingard being yanked down by Noble in the area after which the referee, Jonathan Moss, waved away penalty appeals.
Solskjær offered a wry take. “I’d rather not say too much but it’s a penalty," Egli ha detto. “Mark was unlucky on Sunday [missing his spot-kick] but was probably lucky today. You can’t pull his shorts and his shirt when you’re on your way down.”
Noble was also mischievous, referencing Lingard’s loan spell at West Ham. “He dived,” said the captain. “I told him off for screaming. He didn’t do that at our place, funnily enough.”
The tempo of the contest invigorated – what the dominant hosts needed was composure where it mattered. While Lingard showed how, via a 20-yard bullet that had Alphonse Areola diving low to repel it, Diogo Dalot was often making penetrating runs along his right flank from full-back that were being missed by his teammates.
West Ham were dangerous when they roved forward, United’s rearguard seeming to dissolve if Bowen and Lanzini, in particolare, got involved. When the interval ended United were 45 minutes away from being knocked out before the clocks go back: failure to deliver on Solskjær’s demand that they go one better than the last four.
Once more his men were fizzing the ball about but, when Sancho, Lingard and Donny van de Beek combined, they produced nothing. The sight of Fernandes and Mason Greenwood warming up telegraphed Solskjær’s thinking: if matters did not improve soon, the cavalry would be sent for. Dalot’s blood ran hot when he blasted a golden chance wide and, though United enjoyed more possession, West Ham remained ahead on the scoreboard.
After an hour Solskjær had seen enough, throwing on Greenwood for Juan Mata. Instantly the teenager ran on to a cute van de Beek lob and Areola saved with his legs. Just before that Matic might have been sent off for a naughty challenge on Vladimir Coufal and was fortunate there was no VAR: the midfielder may well have been dismissed if there had been.
Solskjær next introduced Fernandes, who demanded the ball and urged on teammates. A dipping 20-yard effort brought gasps from the crowd but did not concern Areola, and by the final whistle West Ham were safely into the next round.