If any club has given the lie to Alan Hansen's claim that "you win nothing with kids", it is Manchester United. But a team of youthful understudies could not prolong United's interest in the Carling Cup last night, Bernt Haas and Scott Dobie scoring at the start of each half to take West Bromwich into the quarter-finals for the first time since 1982.
Twenty-four hours earlier, an Arsenal side similarly sprinkled with fresh-faced wannabes had humbled Albion's Black Country rivals, Wolves, by 5-1. However, United found the First Division leaders deserving of their second top-flight scalp after the win at Newcastle in the third round, Albion even "enjoying" the luxury of a missed penalty by Jason Koumas.
When the clubs last met at The Hawthorns, in January, Albion raced into an early lead. Koumas' goal, like the hopes of Premiership survival it ignited, was to prove illusory, yet there were no complaints when Gary Megson's side again broke through in the opening minutes.
United, showing 10 changes from the line-up that lost at Chelsea on Sunday, had already looked unnerved by the intensity of Albion's attacks. So much so that Roy Carroll had to twist in the air to turn over a back-header by Danny Pugh, both goalkeeper and full-back being unaware that the linesman had flagged for offside against Neil Clement.
The respite was short-lived, Albion seizing a sixth-minute lead. Clement, finding space on the left, crossed to the near post, where Rob Hulse rose to flick the ball back towards the edge of the penalty area. Haas, who is likely to represent Switzerland against England at Euro 2004, charged in to despatch a right-footed volley beyond Carroll from 16 yards.
For Albion, it was a cathartic moment; they have scored just once in their last five home League games. However, there is seldom scope to relax against any United XI. A marginally stronger but still under-strength side had come back from a goal down to win at Leeds in the previous round, although Albion were given the opportunity to make a repeat of that feat more difficult midway through the first half.
Pugh's torrid start continued when he cut down Koumas. Mr Winter, who as a fourth official reported Sir Alex Ferguson to the Football Association for heated comments the United manager made at Newcastle earlier this season, pointed to the spot. Koumas struck his penalty kick confidently, only for Carroll to spring to his left, parry and then smother the ball.
Albion had further chances to increase their advantage. Carroll again excelled to block a close-range header by Danny Dichio, while Hulse, allowed a free shot, skied the ball on to the Smethwick End roof, which even Jonny Wilkinson might find difficult to do.
United's central-midfield pairing were by no means rookies, Nicky Butt and Kleberson having opposed each other in a World Cup quarter-final less than 18 months ago. They began to drive their colleagues forward, and Butt tested Russell Hoult with a header and a shot as half-time approached.
Both teams might have scored as the second half began at the same ferocious pace. No sooner had Haas' right-wing cross been headed against the underside of the bar by Dichio in the 48th minute than Kleberson drew a diving save from Hoult with a 20-yard drive.
Ferguson cannot have been happy with the number of times the Albion wing-backs were able to feed the ball into the danger area. In the 56th minute the ploy produced a second home goal, James O'Connor setting up Clement to cross for Dobie to announce his arrival by scoring with a low, glancing header.
West Bromwich Albion (3-5-2): Hoult; Gregan, Gaardsoe, Gilchrist; Haas, Johnson, O'Connor, Koumas (A Chambers, 64) Clement; Dichio (Sakiri, 85), Hulse (Dobie, 55). Substitutes not used: J Chambers, Murphy (gk).
Manchester United (4-5-1): Carroll; Bardsley, O'Shea, Tierney, Pugh; Ronaldo (Eagles, 77), Fletcher, Butt, Kleberson (Nardiello, 77), Richardson; Bellion. Substitutes not used: Jones, Wood, Williams (gk).
Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).
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