By Tom Dowsett
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West Ham United were denied the chance to face Fulham at home in the Fourth-Round of the FA Cup as they fell at the same hurdle as they did a year ago, when, as they did in the league meeting between the 2 sides at Old Trafford on 28 November, Manchester United scored an early goal to dump the hammers out of the competition in the Third-Round replay on Wednesday night.
Winston Reid captained the side in place of club captain Kevin Nolan, who dropped to the bench, as well as Jack Collison, Matt Jarvis and Guy Demel. James Collins missed out due to a hamstring injury he picked up at Sunderland on Saturday, while Joe Cole was rested perhaps with Saturday's game against Queens Park Rangers in mind. In came Jordan Spence, James Tomkins, Ricardo Vaz Te, Gary O'Neil, Matthew Taylor and, returning from his own hamstring injury, Mohamed Diame.
West Ham had a couple of early chances, most prominently on 8 minutes, when O'Neil's ball found Vaz Te in space but he could only shoot tamely at Anders Lindeguaard in the home goal. However, the hosts were putting the Hammers under pressure from the start and scored another early goal on 9 minutes, though it wasn't as early as in the league game. Tomkins lost his marker meaning that Javier Hernandez was free to collect the ball and cross to Wayne Rooney, who only had to slide it in from 8 yards.
On 21 minutes the Hammers could have gone close again when O'Neil lifted a freekick in, which found Carlton Cole but the chance went when was the striker penalised for a foul.
Two minutes later, Taylor found himself free and instead of passing to teammate he elected to shoot but the effort went into the side netting.
On 28 minutes, Alou Diarra was alert to the danger and smashed the ball out of play when Rooney tried to play in Luis Antonio Valencia. The Red Devils could have increased their lead on two opportunities from the same set piece, firstly when Valencia set up Nani, who unleashed a superb volley, only to have it cleared magnificently off the line by Dan Potts, then Jussi Jaaskelainen saved a header from Chris Smalling following Rafael Da Silva's cross.
Minutes into the second half and West Ham should have been given a penalty when Rafael Da Silva handled Cole's knockdown, but Phil Dowd was unmoved at the appeals from the travelling support.
West Ham were making it an uncomfortable evening for the current Premier league leaders and went close again on 62 minutes when Taylor rolled the ball across the box for Vaz Te, instead of pulling it back for Cole who was unmarked and the chance quickly disappeared.
Soon after, Irons boss Sam Allardyce made a double change replacing Diame and Cole with Collison and Nolan.
On 73 minutes, Nolan and Vaz Te combined well to try and exert more pressure on the home side. Vaz Te rolled the ball to the former Bolton and Newcastle United midfielder, he then tried to beat his man but he lost out and Alexander Buttner cleared the ball out of play.
On 77 minutes, Allardyce made his final change, giving a debut to Academy graduate Eliot Lee in place of Vaz Te.
A minute later, Spence was adjudged to have handballed in the area and, as the East London club were playing Manchester United at Old Trafford you can guess what happened next! Yes, a penalty was awarded, but the hammers survived as Rooney stepped up to take it and Jaaskelainen wasn't even tested as the striker blazed it over the bar.
With three minutes of normal time left to play, just after the majority inside Old Trafford thought that Ryan Giggs had scored only for the linesman's flag to go up, a freekick was awarded the way of the East Londoners but Taylor's deep effort was poor and very wide.
West Ham tried their hardest to force an equaliser, but the Red Devils defence stood firm and the Hammers were knocked out at the Third-Round stage for the second season running. Next up for them is a vital home game against former manager Harry Redknapp's Queens Park Rangers side who lie bottom of the Premier League table.
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