West Ham in a winter wonderland

The Hammers book their place in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup with an astonishing thrashing of Manchester United.

West Ham United 4 Manchester United 0

IT WAS a West Ham United winter wonderland at snowy Upton Park, where Avram Grant’s side turned the form-book upside-down to send the Carling Cup holders crashing out of the competition under an avalanche of goals, writes STEVE BLOWERS.

Jonathan Spector’s first-half double put the Hammers on their way into the semi-final draw before Carlton Cole struck twice after the break to emphatically send the east enders into that last four.

Grant’s men had successfully answered the joint-owners’ early ‘Save our Season’ distress call with a 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic at the weekend but surely Messrs Gold and Sullivan could never have imagined that their bottom-placed side would follow-up that Mayday shout with such a spectacular showing against Sir Alex Ferguson’s table-toppers.

With one eye on the league table and the other the treatment table, the Israeli made half-a-dozen changes, bringing in Spector, Cole, Tal Ben Haim, Luis Boa Morte, Radoslav Kovac and Julien Faubert for Lars Jacobsen (cup-tied), Valon Behrami, Danny Gabbidon plus substitutes Junior Stanislas, Scott Parker and Frederic Piquionne.

But it could have been such a different story with just six minutes on the clock, when Robert Green grappled Gabriel Obertan’s low, angled 12-yarder onto the base of his right-hand post and James Tomkins heroically cleared the rebound off the toes of Javier Hernadez with a timely tackle.

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On Saturday, five-goal Dimitar Berbatov had extended table-topping, Manchester United’s unbeaten streak to 29 games but following his exertions in that 7-1 win over bludgeoned Blackburn Rovers, the Bulgarian was rested as an over-confident Fergie made 10 changes, retaining only Anderson.

And how the United boss could have done with his first-choice eleven as West Ham went on to grab the tie by the scruff of its neck.

On 16 minutes, Grant’s men thought they had taken the lead, when Spector foraged deep into United territory before squaring to Victor Obinna, whose 20-yarder deflected off the USA international and beyond Tomasz Kuszczak, into the net.

But as Hammers’ shivering supporters amongst the crowd of 33,551 went wild, an assistant’s flag put a big freeze on the celebrations and referee Mark Clattenburg ruled out the effort for offside against Spector.

Sporting a Robert Mancini-style claret and blue scarf around his neck, the furious Grant demanded an explanation from the Tyneside official, who had also wrongly ruled-out a Piquionne ‘winner’ at Wolverhampton Wanderers in October.

But midway through the half, there was to be no argument, when Obinna collected from Cole and cleverly curled the ball towards the penalty spot, where Spector of all people got in front of Darren Fletcher to send a diving header past the clutches of Kuszczak to net his first goal for the Hammers in 97 outings.

And having waited so long to break his West Ham duck, just like a London bus, the steamrollering Spector then grabbed his second, when he again tore into the heart of the United defence and, although his attempted one-two with Obinna was thwarted by Fabio, the American was still able to stride onto the loose ball and fire home from ten yards as Chris Smalling and Kuszczak looked on in disbelief.

Certainly, the red-faced Ferguson could have been forgiven for pulling his scarlet bobble hat down over his eyes as Obinna’s low 18-yarder then forced a smart save out of the United ‘keeper to deny West Ham a three-goal interval lead.

The United boss introduced Federico Macheda at the expense of Bebe for the restart and when Green inadvertently smashed his drop-kick into the newly-arrived substitute, the Hammers ‘keeper did well to slide tackle Hernandez.

Any hopes that the four-times winners had of avoiding their first defeat since early April then disappeared on 55 minutes, though, when Cole charged in front of the flat-footed Jonny Evans to nod home Obinna’s left-wing cross.

And midway through the second half, the Hammers snow-covered, strikeforce combined once more, when Obinna skilfully deceived substitute Rafael Da Silva before sending a low left-wing centre into the feet of Cole, who used all his strength to hold off Evans before turning and crashing a low six-yarder past the helpless Kuszczak to send Upton Park into dreamland.

HAMMERS: Green, Faubert, Ben Haim, Tomkins (Reid 73), Upson, Barrera (Hines 76), Spector, Kovac, Boa Morte, Cole (Stanislas 89) Unused Subs: Boffin, Parker, McCarthy, Piquionne

MANCHESTER UNITED: Kuszczak, Fabio (Rafael 65), Smalling, O’Shea, Evans (Brown 720, Anderson, Fletcher, Obertan, Giggs, Hernandez, Bebe (Macheda 46) Unused Subs: Amos, Park, Carrick, Eikrem.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg Attendance: 33,551.

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