West Ham show their cup class once again
West Ham United 5 Burnley 1
YET AGAIN, the Hammers parked their poor Premier League form to one side to produce another compelling cup victory that booked an FA Cup quarter-final tie at Stoke City, writes STEVE BLOWERS
It really is becoming a chalk and cheese season for Avram Grant’s men, who languish in the relegation zone but have reached both the Carling Cup semi-finals and now the last eight of the world’s oldest cup competition.
Debutant Thomas Hitzlsperger gave the East Enders an interval lead before Carlton Cole’s quick-fire double and a Winston Reid header made the tie safe within an hour.
And although Jay Rodriguez grabbed a scrappy consolation, Freddie Sears served up the final course of this goal feast with virtually the final kick of the tie.
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Following his side’s fantastic three-goal fightback at West Bromwich Albion last weekend, Grant had made three changes as fit-again summer signing Hitzlsperger joined Sears and James Tomkins in the starting line-up, in place of the cup-tied Gary O’Neil plus substitutes Manuel Da Costa and Luis Boa Morte.
Certainly, the early warning signs were there for all to see and, looking determined to make up for lost time, ‘Der Hammer’ forced an early corner before seeing a blistering shot charged down.
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Burnley, lying in eighth place in the Championship and six points of the play-offs, made just one switch following their 1-1 draw with Cardiff City as Wade Elliot came in for Chris Iwelumo.
And the 1914 winners were soon trying to cause problems of their own as Rodriguez out-muscled Reid before forcing Robert Green to paw his close-range shot skywards and, as the Hammers’ Kiwi defender quickly changed his boots, Ross Wallace then forced the England keeper to claw away his sizzling 30-yarder at full stretch.
Midway through the first-half, though, that man Hitzlsperger broke the deadlock in spectacular style, when he collected from skipper Scott Parker and, as Jack Cork tried in vain to close him down, the German unleashed a 30-yard howitzer that flew over Lee Grant’s flailing right glove at a speed of 65 miles per hour
As the interval approached, the lively Chris Eagles tried his luck from 20 yards but, once again, Green pulled out another full-length stop and then ex-Hammer Tyrone Mears saw his dangerous cross into the six-yard box cut out by the equally alert Reid to preserve the three-times winners lead going into the break.
But within five minutes of the restart, West Ham United had booked that quarter-final trip to Stoke City.
On 48 minutes, a marginally offside Cole raced onto Mark Noble’s defence-splitting pass and despite recklessly over-running the ball, the grounded England striker was still able to get the better of both Grant and Michael Duff to hook the ball over the line from six yards.
Just two minutes later, there were no question marks over the quality of Cole’s second goal, when he timed his run to perfection to collect another nonchalant Noble through-pass and claim his tenth goal of the campaign with an ice-cool 18-yard chip over the helplessly exposed Burnley keeper.
Then, as the hour-mark neared, Reid ghosted in front of Cork and Rodriguez on the near-post to glance home Hitzlsperger’s corner and claim his first-ever goal in English football.
Job done, Hitzlsperger departed to a standing ovation to be replaced by Pablo Barrera midway through the half but, with 20 minutes remaining, defensive coach Wally Downes was certainly not applauding the careless consolation that the Hammers rearguard gifted to Burnley.
The Hammers may have been heading to the Britannia Stadium to battle it out with Stoke City for a semi-final place but in a moment of sheer FA Cup farce, Green somehow drilled Wayne Bridge’s underhit backpass against Mears and the stooping Rodriguez diverted a simple header over the line from all of two yards.
Reid also nodded substitute Iwelumo header against the underside of the bar in stoppage time but the final word went to Sears, who strode onto substitute Jonathan Spector’s pass before crashing an unstoppable shot beyond Grant.
Hammers: Green, Jacobsen, Reid, Tomkins, Sears, Hitzlsperger (Barrera 66), Noble, Parker, Ba (Piquionne 82), Cole (Spector 73) Unused Subs: Boffin, Boa Morte, Da Costa, Hines.
Burnley: Grant, Mears, Fox, Duff, Carlisle, Wallace (Iwelumo 72), Elliott, Marney (Alexander 72), Cork, Eagles (Thompson 84), Rodriguez Unused Subs: Jensen, Edgar, Bikey, Easton.
Referee: Martin Atkinson