Man United earn impressive win at West Ham to reach FA Cup semifinal
LONDON -- Three points from Manchester United's 2-1 win against West Ham in the FA Cup quarterfinal replay. Man United will play Everton in the semifinal.
1. Van Gaal gets another big win
Louis van Gaal remains the great survivor. Just when the Dutchman looks gone as Manchester United manager, he pulls off a result that prolongs the question of whether he will be at Old Trafford next season. United are heading to Wembley on April 23 for an FA Cup semifinal with Everton.
A brilliant goal from Marcus Rashford and a close-range finish from Marouane Fellaini have extended United's season and maybe, just maybe, their manager's time at the club; this was not a good result for the Jose Mourinho lobbyists.
With hopes of a Champions League spot disappearing over the horizon, Upton Park had the distinct look of a last stand for Van Gaal. Only the retention of hope for silverware could possibly revive the season but, thanks to this win, hope remains.
To follow the pattern of Van Gaal's reign, there were periods when Man United hit their stride, only to lose it almost as quickly.
Having been two goals clear and cruising, with attacks repeatedly opening up West Ham, they stepped off and, after James Tomkins' goal made it 2-1, the visitors had to cling on. David De Gea made several fine saves, while Andy Carroll headed over and Cheikhou Kouyate had an equaliser neutralized by offside.
Prior to that hectic finish, the speed of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford had been crucial. Lingard blew the best chance of the first half when, put through by Rashford's pass, could not beat Darren Randolph, who saved with his outstretched foot.
Failure to capitalise might have left the door open for West Ham, but then Martial, whose direct running at the heart of the defence was carving up great swathes of space, set up Rashford after nine minutes of the second half.
The 18-year-old is still less than two months into his first-team career, but he will be recalled as the shining light of this campaign after crashing in the game's opening goal off the underside of the crossbar. Van Gaal's reported half-time barracking of Rashford during the 3-0 loss at Spurs either had the desired effect or was folly, depending on your point of view.
And Fellaini, so often the fans' whipping boy, put United into a two-goal lead that De Gea particularly would make sure was not surrendered. Van Gaal lives to fight on at Wembley.
2. West Ham's sad goodbye
This really, truly would be the last-ever FA Cup match at the old Boleyn Ground before the Hammers move to the Olympic Stadium.
The old stadium, which will be remembered as one of the most atmospheric in top-level English football, has just three Premier League games to host after this. As it happens, Manchester United, on May 10, will be the final visitors.
A stirring, pre-match rendition of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" rattled the rafters to deepen a sense of occasion. And the Hammers started like a train, with De Gea forced into saves from Enner Valencia and Dimitri Payet, only to loosen their grasp when the visitors began forcing their own chances.
Payet found life difficult against United right-back Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who combines a powerful physique with a high cruising speed and a precocious reading of the game. The young Dutchman stymied the Frenchman's winding runs and closed off the most obvious supply line to Carroll, whose frustrations were taken out by a clattering foul on Ander Herrera just before half-time.
At half-time, Bilic opted to move Payet infield, closer to Carroll, to the space between Michael Carrick and United's central defence. Manuel Lanzini was pushed out onto the left flank, though soon after that, Fosu-Mensah was pushed to Man United's left after Marcos Rojo's withdrawal.
It was after that reshuffle that Carroll, somehow escaping onto the back post to be unmarked, set up Tomkins following a corner. Though the Irons pushed hard for their equaliser, it did not come.
In Fosu-Mensah's outstanding performance, plus the break-up play of Fellaini, Michael Carrick and a dogged night's work from Ander Herrera, lay the roots of a damp send-off to 102 years of the FA Cup in East London.
3. Fellaini answers his critics
The selection of Fellaini did not look like the move of a manager looking to curry fans' favour. This season, the Belgian lapsed back into the clownish status he endured in his first year at Old Trafford.
Fellaini's presence, as suggested by Van Gaal in pre-match, was meant to add muscle that might match that of their opponents. The problem with that policy is that the midfielder, for all his size, is often not the best at tackling or defensive headers and concedes far too many free kicks.
On Wednesday, though, he was far better. Fielded ahead of Carrick, Fellaini made a healthy contribution to attack to remind that it was his performances as an attacking midfielder that saw Everton pocket £27.5 million for him in 2013.
After their woes against the crossed ball, specifically the free header from which Toby Alderweireld scored for Tottenham on Sunday, Van Gaal was taking preventative measures against Carroll, labelled "the goal man" by the stadium announcer.
When United spent the beginning of the match pushed back -- they waited until the 14th minute to mount an attack of any genuine menace -- that looked like a cogent policy.
Fellaini's towering form was a key presence when Payet was raining down free kicks and corners into the United box, and he also did a fine job of breaking up play, while maintaining his discipline and always holding his position.
After Rashford's opener, Fellaini doubled the lead when he converted Martial's deflected cross. It was a moment of vindication for the Belgian and Dutch pariahs.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.