Whether honesty or raw emotion prompted Alan Pardew to survey Saturday's humbling by Portsmouth and declare that he could take no pleasure in victory at the City of Manchester Stadium is unclear, but having guided West Ham United into the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in 15 years now is unequivocally the time for him to reconsider his stance.
On a night of high controversy, when Manchester City had every right to believe that fate had conspired against them once again but, in truth, the visitors were thoroughly deserving of their success, two goals from Dean Ashton ought to have lifted his manager's mood from its weekend depths. Unfortunately he did not feel inclined to share in the delirium of his supporters afterwards, electing to give his eloquent assistant Peter Grant the media platform while he remained behind the changing room doors. " Alan was really hurt by Saturday's performance and despite what he said prior to tonight's game I can assure you it is a wee bit different back there," said the former Celtic favourite. "The boys are ecstatic." And we should take his word for it.
Pardew was no model of disappointment as Ashton, the striker Stuart Pearce deemed unworthy of the £7.25m demanded by Norwich City in January, drove the game's opening goal inside the near post of David James four minutes before the interval. By contrast, he looked sheepish as the same player confirmed West Ham's passage with a second-half goal that showed there is sometimes no reward for sportsmanship.
Both Pearce and Pardew urged their players to kick the ball into touch as Christian Dailly lay prone with a torn hamstring in the 69th minute only to be ignored. City's Kiki Musampa, caught in two minds, was dispossessed by Nigel Reo-Coker not once, but twice, as West Ham took advantage and Yossi Benayoun gave Ashton a simple tap-in from three yards out.
"It is a pity how the game was decided," Grant said. "Stuart Pearce showed fantastic sportsmanship in telling his boys to put the ball out but, in fairness to both teams, the play had moved to the other side of the pitch. Manchester City will be cursing their luck."
"Once West Ham had a sniff of goal Christian Dailly was no longer their priority," responded Pearce, though that was as close as the City manager came to condemnation. Instead he offered a suggested rule change that would allow physios to enter the field of play with permission of the fourth official "That way the 80 per cent who feign injury would get up knowing the game is continuing and the genuine 20 per cent, like Christian, would receive treatment."
Pearce's main concern, however, was with a performance that lacked nothing in spirit and endeavour, especially once Sun Jihai was harshly dismissed for raising his hands to Matthew Etherington in the 55th minute, but was severely handicapped by a lack of attacking options.
While City were hindered by the absence of Georgios Samaras and Andy Cole through injury, West Ham, in Ashton and Marlon Harewood, had an impressive forward line and the means to reach the last four.
City's problem was glaringly obvious and meant they could ill-afford to squander fine openings or concede first, and unfortunately for their prospects of reaching their first FA Cup semi-final for 25 years, they did both. Musampa was the biggest culprit of the first half, and though he atoned with an immaculate volley that gave the home side belated hope in the 84th minute, the half-chances that Sun, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Albert Riera and Darius Vassell failed to take proved costly.
Once they had overcome a nervous opening, West Ham grew in composure and confidence. That said, they created little until the 41st minute when a combination of the rub of the green and an outstanding finish from Ashton secured the all-important breakthrough. The former Crewe man instigated the attack with a rolling maul through the City defence, and when Etherington and Reo-Coker managed to release the striker behind Sylvain Distin he produced an emphatic low drive to record his fourth goal for the club.
The second half was clouded by Sun's dismissal and the context of Ashton's winner, though that should not detract from West Ham's achievement. "We want to go all the way and win it now," said Grant.
Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Jordan (Sommeil, 23); Sun Jihai, Barton (Ireland, 78), Musampa, Riera; Vassell, Wright-Phillips ( Croft, 72). Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Miller.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Dailly (Scaloni, 70), Collins, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Benayoun, Mullins, Reo-Coker (Fletcher, 81), Etherington; Ashton (Zamora, 88), Harewood. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Sheringham.
Referee: H Webb (Yorkshire).Reuse content