Wayne Rooney marked his return to action by scoring the only goal as well as missing a late penalty as Manchester United limped to a 1-0 victory over West Ham in their FA Cup third-round replay at Old Trafford.
In many ways Rooney’s own performance embodied that of his team. United controlled the first-half against an under strength West Ham but, having failed to make the most of their dominance, the visitors came back into the contest and could well have pulled level. The second half was summed up as Rooney struck a dismal penalty high over the bar with just over 10 minutes remaining to ensure that the result remained in doubt right until the end.
Both sides were significantly weakened from their first-choice lineups. West Ham’s defense was hit by injuries, while captain Kevin Nolan started on the bench. As in the original tie, Robin van Persie was named as a substitute for United, alongside the likes of Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, as Sir Alex Ferguson made 10 changes.
The alterations did not look like they were negatively impacting Ferguson’s side early on. With just nine minutes on the clock, one of those brought in, Anderson, gave a glimpse of his quality with a fine pass to split West Ham’s defense and send Javier Hernandez through. The Mexican took a heavy first touch, but there was to be no challenge and he was able to square the ball across the six-yard box for Rooney to slide in and direct into the net.
Making his return from two months out, Nani came close to getting on the score sheet but was denied by a fine goal line clearance from young Daniel Potts.
With West Ham sitting deep, leaving Carlton Cole isolated in attack, it was all too easy in the opening period for the home side. There were further efforts on goal as Chris Smalling headed too close to Jussi Jaaskelainen and Rooney had a low long-range shot well saved.
It really should have been 2-0 just minutes after the restart. Just moments after Hernandez was perhaps fortunate to escape as the ball struck his hand in the box, the striker looked to capitalize on a mistake from Alou Diarra but shot woefully over the bar when clean through on goal.
West Ham appeared to gradually to gain in confidence and they should have garnered plenty of confidence from an inexperienced defense featuring the likes of Smalling, Phil Jones and Alexander Buttner. It was Dutch left-back Buttner who failed to clear the ball in the box to lead to West Ham’s best chance of the contest. Ricardo Vaz Te was able to flick the ball on to Matthew Taylor, but the midfielder put his right-footed effort high and wide of Anders Lindegaard’s goal.
That should have been it for West Ham when Jordan Spence was penalized for handling Ryan Giggs’ cross in the box in the 79th minute. However, Rooney will want to forget his spot kick that sailed high into the stands behind the goal.
Ferguson’s uneasiness was demonstrated as Van Persie was brought off the bench late on, but in the end the Dutchman was not needed as United held on for a fourth round meeting at home to Fulham.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.