Manchester United 1 West Ham United 0: The look of thunder on Sir Alex Ferguson’s face when he wheeled around and absorbed Wayne Rooney’s second missed penalty of the season – and Manchester United’s fifth – should not obscure the evidence that Ryan Giggs, in the words of the song, is tearing them apart again.
The player – whose goal against Arsenal in the dying seconds of the FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park 14 years ago will, for many, always be his best – stage-managed a tie which never seriously looked in any doubt. He has not always looked immortal this campaign but the manager's words did not feel like hyperbole as he promised tonight that Giggs would be around next season. "Just a fantastic human being," Ferguson said of him.
There were many moments to marvel at – the 39-year-old thundering into a second-half tackle on West Ham forward Ricardo Vaz Te, for instance, and his balance in executing a first-time pass which allowed Javier Hernandez, just offside, to find the net. Or else the probing, clipped cross which drew a handball from Jordan Spence and the penalty which Rooney piled into the night sky.
It was not entirely a stroll. The need of substitute Michael Carrick to bring some control to a midfield which was then beginning to lose it confirmed as much. Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, stretched things a bit when he insisted tonight that referee Mike Dean's lack of "courage" to award a penalty after a borderline Rafael da Silva handball was pivotal – but a more vintage United side would have been out of sight.
Rooney's penalty scuff – for which he could perhaps point to the dire state of the Old Trafford turf – takes United's number of misses ahead of the four they have converted and Ferguson had the parable of Johnny Hubbard, the so-called Rangers "penalty king" of the 1950s to quote. Ferguson warned in November that Rooney, for whom this was a mixed first outing since his woeful pre-Christmas display in Swansea, should convert more. Before tonight Rooney had scored 74 per cent of his penalties in the league and Champions League in the last nine years, missing six out of 23.
"I don't think it's one of these things. I think we have to improve on that," Ferguson said. "There's been talk about the boy [Rickie] Lambert at Southampton who scored 33 out of 33. That's what penalty-kick taking is all about. There are several great examples over the years. [Matt] Le Tissier 47 out of 48. There was player [Hubbard] in Scotland played for Rangers – 57 in a row. Your penalty kick is your opportunity to take an advantage – whether it's a foul or a handball – of scoring a goal." Hubbard scored 75 from 78.
West Ham seemed to have more important fish to fry than this match: Queen's Park Rangers at home on Saturday. Joe Cole, whose supply line seem to have mortally damaged United in the first tie, was rested. Allardyce deployed a three-man defence, trying to get numbers into midfield but United were too incisive to get bogged down and cramped for space.
Anderson, who has finally started showing in flashes this season why Ferguson invested £20m in him six years ago, executed the 40-yard ball from his own half of the field in the ninth minute which destroyed Allardyce's makeshift defence, sending Hernandez tearing down the left to level unselfishly for Rooney. He slid the ball in and gestured to the skies for his wife Coleen's 14-year-old sister Rosie McLoughlin, who has died following a lifelong battle with a genetic disorder.
West Ham's Daniel Potts cleared off his line and Chris Smalling could only head tamely at goalkeeper Jussi Jasskelainen. But for a 20 minutes or so after the break the visitors, whose wing-backs had clearly been challenged by Allardyce to be more ambitious, looked like they might score, as Matthew Taylor drew defensive errors.
Alou Diarra looked like the occasional centre-half he is; one powerless to stop penetrative passes ricocheting off him to allow Hernandez and Anderson two more golden opportunities.
West Ham could have no complaints with the penalty decision, which saw Rooney belt the ball over, right-footed. But neither could they moan about the night's outcome. Giggs rose above the mediocrity to carry United on.
Man of the match Giggs.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire).