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Manchester United in hunt for silver lining with FA Cup


Battle: Manchester United's Daley Blind challenges West Ham's Enner Valencia at Upton Park last night

Battle: Manchester United's Daley Blind challenges West Ham's Enner Valencia at Upton Park last night

Battle: Manchester United's Daley Blind challenges West Ham's Enner Valencia at Upton Park last night

There will be no silver-plated farewell to Upton Park after all, but Louis van Gaal can still dream of ending Manchester United's 12-year FA Cup drought after his team ruthlessly claimed victory in the last-ever cup tie at West Ham's famous old ground.

A stunning opener by 18-year-old Marcus Rashford 10 minutes into the second-half, followed by a bundled finish by Marouane Fellaini, settled this quarter-final replay for United, who will now face Everton at Wembley on April 23 for a place in the FA Cup Final against either Watford or Crystal Palace.

With West Ham vacating this ground for the Olympic Stadium at the end of the season, the narrative had all been about the Hammers taking silverware into the venue which dripped gold during London 2012.

But despite a late James Tomkins diving header, which ensured a pulsating finish to the game, United held on to justify Van Gaal's tactical plan.

With the cup offering United's only realistic prospect of success this season - a top four finish appears increasingly unlikely after last Sunday's 3-0 defeat at Tottenham - there was little sense of win-or-bust for Van Gaal in terms of his team selection.

Rather than take the game to West Ham in an attempt to defeat Slaven Bilic's team with the expensively-assembled flair of Juan Mata, Memphis Depay and the fit-again Wayne Rooney, Van Gaal opted for caution in the form of Ander Herrera and Fellaini.

This was United's roundheads rather than their cavaliers, but in fairness to Van Gaal, the pragmatic approach paid off during a first-half which saw the home side start brightly but fade quickly once they became bogged down by United's well-stocked midfield.

There is little wrong with United's ability to frustrate their opponents, but they also give the impression that they are just too well-organised and drilled.

This United can soak up pressure and retain possession, but when they have the ball, they lack the imagination to do anything with it.

But having started well with Enner Valencia twice forcing David de Gea into comfortable saves, West Ham were unable to cut through United as they did Arsenal at the weekend and the visitors began to enjoy success attacking down the flanks.

Full-backs Marcos Rojo and the impressive Timothy Fosu-Mensah both pushed forward at every opportunity.

Jesse Lingard created a good chance for Fellaini on 18 minutes, only for the Belgian midfielder's close range shot to be tipped over by goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

It was all very functional, however, and West Ham were no better, with Dimitri Payet having one of his quieter nights due to Fosu-Mensah.

But with no FA Cup success since 2004 - and no appearance in the final since losing to Chelsea in 2007 - the visiting supporters grew restless with the paint-by-numbers approach of Van Gaal's team and began chanting 'attack, attack, attack'.

The breakthrough came in spectacular style with Rashford once again displaying maturity and calmness beyond his years. Advancing on goal 40 yards out, Rashford had plenty to do but curled a right-foot strike beyond Randolph for his sixth goal in 11 games.

When Fellaini scored with his left knee from three yards on 67 minutes, the tie looked to be won for United.

But Tomkins' header, after Andy Carroll had nodded Payet's corner across the six-yard box, gave West Ham hope and left United needing to cling on.

And cling on they did, with Carroll heading over from 10 yards on 88 minutes before David de Gea produced a double save from the striker and Cheikhou Kayate.

Payet then saw a stoppage-time free-kick deflected over as West Ham pushed and pushed, but United somehow held on to book their prized passage to Wembley.

West Ham: Randolph, Antonio, Tomkins, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate, Noble, Valencia (Moses, 62 mins), Lanzini (Emenike, 74 mins), Payet, Carroll. Unused subs: Adrian, Obiang, Collins, Hendrie, Oxford.

Man Utd: De Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Smalling, Blind, Rojo (Valencia, 69 mins), Fellaini, Carrick, Lingard, Ander Herrera (Schneiderlin, 76 mins), Martial, Rashford (Rooney, 90 mins). Unused subs: Depay, Mata, Young, Romero.

Man of the match: Marcus Rashford

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire)

Belfast Telegraph