Hitzlsperger's debut strike sets West Ham on path to Cup rout

West Ham United 5 Burnley 1
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The Independent Football

Even if you are one of those famously self-assured Germany midfielders, it can be a nervous time waiting to make your debut. Thomas Hitzlsperger had to hang around six months before finally making his first West Ham appearance last night, having suffered a thigh injury while playing for Germany against Denmark in August.

But good things do indeed come to those who wait. The midfielder took less than 25 minutes of his West Ham debut to conjure a 30-yard wonder goal. It sent the London club on their way to an FA Cup quarter-final place against Stoke.

Hitzlsperger's strike quietened critics who feel he might prove an unfortunately injudicious signing because of his injury problems. The 28-year-old even added an assist, supplying Winston Reid for West Ham's fourth goal. That margin gave West Ham manager Avram Grant the luxury of substituting the German midway through the second half and the player left to a well-deserved ovation.

"I thought the fans might have forgotten about me," joked Hitzlsperger afterwards. "But they didn't."

Carlton Cole had taken the game out of the Championship side's reach with two goals in the space of a minute early in the second half, making it 3-0. However, it was still Hitzlsperger's night.

He will be an important figure in West Ham's Premier League run-in. "He was one of our best players in pre-season," said Grant. "What you saw here is not even half of what he can do."

Before kick-off, club sources rubbished reports that West Ham will be without injured centre-back Matthew Upson for the rest of the season. That was encouraging for the home side as their defence looked uneasy early on.

Burnley made a positive start but they were deflated when Hitzlsperger produced his powerful, swerving, long-range strike in the 23rd minute. That breakthrough allowed West Ham to rediscover some swagger, but Burnley had still been competitive and, at half-time, looked capable of a comeback.

Then the two Cole goals changed the game. "The result could have been very different," said Burnley's manager Eddie Howe. "We had a bad start to the half, looking shaky and West Ham took advantage."

Within three minutes of the re-start, Mark Noble created Cole's first. He lofted the ball over the top of Burnley's defence to his team-mate on the edge of the 18-yard box. Cole's first shot was blocked by goalkeeper Lee Grant but he let the ball slip out of his fingertips, allowing the West Ham striker to steer it in at the second attempt.

The game was effectively over when Cole added his second. The England striker had been lucky with his opening goal, as his first touch was not ideal, but there were no such problems this time. He sent in a powerful, long-range effort out of Grant's reach.

Then it was just a question of how many West Ham would score. The fourth came in the 59th minute when Reid took advantage of some slack marking to head in from Hitzlsperger's corner.

Grant's pleasure was temporarily tainted by a terrible mix-up between Wayne Bridge and Green. Bridge sloppily rolled the ball back for Green, whose poor clearance struck Tyrone Mears and then reached Jay Rodriguez, who headed in a 71st-minute consolation.

West Ham had the final say, though. In injury-time, Jonathan Spector chested the ball down on the edge of the box, allowing Freddie Sears to latch on to it and score with a powerful finish.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Jacobsen, Reid, Tomkins, Bridge; Sears, Parker, Noble, Hitzlsperger (Barrera, 67); Cole (Spector, 73), Ba (Piquionne, 82). Substitutes not used Boffin (gk), Boa Morte, Da Costa, Hines.

Burnley (4-3-3): Grant; Mears, Duff, Carlisle, Fox; Marney (Alexander, 72), Cork, Elliott; Rodriguez, Wallace (Iwelumo, 73), Eagles (Thompson, 84). Substitutes not used Jensen (gk), Edgar, Bikey, Easton.

Referee M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).