It was hard work - a hard watch at times, too - and went on for half an hour longer than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, David Moyes or even much of the terrestrial television audience would have liked, but Scott McTominay’s extra time breakthrough eventually saw Manchester United progress past West Ham and advance to the FA Cup quarter finals.
David Moyes’ wait for his first win at Old Trafford as a visiting manager goes on and rarely looked like it would end here in any case, with fatigued West Ham playing well below the level that they have shown in their impressive Premier League campaign. Not that United were any better, though.
Solskjaer’s side were equally toothless for 97 minutes until McTominay mercifully pounced on Marcus Rashford’s cute lay-off to finally break the tedium. By that point, his manager had already thrown Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and any other regular due a rest in search of a winner.
That is not ideal, given the demands of this most congested of schedules, but Solskjaer has always taken the domestic cup competitions seriously and this year will see United’s third successive quarter-final appearance under his management. West Ham can concentrate on their quest for European qualification through the league.
Moyes’ plans were dealt an early blow with an injury to Angelo Ogbonna, whose ankle was the meat in a nasty sandwich between Anthony Martial’s boot and Lukasz Fabianski’s thigh while blocking one early attempt.
West Ham were already without Michail Antonio, who was left out of the matchday squad, and without that usual out-ball which has proved so successful this season, United dominated.
Even so, the first half lacked any real drama apart from one Victor Lindelof header from a corner, which deflected off Craig Dawson and made its way to the bottom right-hand corner. Fabianski is a criminally underrated goalkeeper and stretched every sinew in his left arm to reach the ball, push it against the post and away from danger.
Other than that, United searched in vain for the final ball required to break West Ham’s lines. The usual provider Bruno Fernandes had been granted a rare rest but his stand-in, Donny van de Beek, struggled to have the same influence on proceedings.
A clash of heads towards the end of the half resulted in English football’s first concussion substitution at half time. Issa Diop, already on for Ogbonna, played the remaining seven minutes of the half only to be replaced at the break, with Moyes retaining his remaining four changes.
There was greater purpose and urgency from both sides after the interval but still no quality. Rashford, in particular, should have done better when he found himself on the end of a kind bounce of the ball inside the penalty area and unmarked at the far post. He drilled straight at Fabianski.
The standard was summed up midway through wehn, under no pressure whatsoever, Lindelof played the ball straight into the feet of Pablo Fornals on the halfway line, sparking a three-on-three counter-attack. Not to worry, though. Fornals went nowhere and the move quickly petered out.
Solskjaer decided he had to do something. Predictably, Van de Beek’s miserable evening came to an early end – with a knowing look to the United bench – and Fernandes was introduced. When even he could not have an immediate impact, on came Edinson Cavani for the final minutes of regulation play. But it was another substitute, seven minutes into extra time, that would finally make the breakthrough.
McTominay is enjoying a fine goal-scoring season by his standards. This was his seventh of the campaign – doubling his career total since September – and another which involved timing a late run in the penalty area to capitalise on another round of head tennis in the box. Rashford’s touch to finally bring the ball out of the air and lay up his team-mate was perfect, as was the hard and low strike which proved enough to put United through.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies