For Wayne Rooney it was a bittersweet night.
Ultimately it was his goal that put Manchester United into a fourth-round tie against Fulham but he also put a second-half penalty into the Stretford End and it has become such a recurring theme that it would be no surprise now if Robin van Persie takes over from the spot.
Sir Alex Ferguson, turning away in disgust, certainly made little attempt to conceal his annoyance at Rooney's fifth miss in his last nine attempts. Ferguson had already warned Rooney he needed to become more clinical and he repeated it more forcibly after his side had held off a disappointing West Ham side.
"We have to improve. The boy [Rickie] Lambert at Southampton, he's scored 33 out of 33. That's what penalty-taking is all about. There have been several great penalty-takers over the years. [Matt] Le Tissier got 47 out of 48. There's a player in Scotland who played for Rangers who got 57 in a row."
His statistics were a little skewed – the player he meant, Johnny Hubbard, actually scored 65 out of 68 for Rangers from 1949 to 1959 – but everyone understood the point. Nani, Javier Hernández and Van Persie have also missed penalties this season whereas Rooney's career record for the club is nine misses out of 28. "Your penalty kicks are to take advantage of a hand ball or a foul and score a goal," Ferguson added. "We can't just say it's one of those things."
The home side should be grateful that West Ham were not accomplished enough to make it anything more than a minor irritation. Just as Liverpool took too long to find any momentum in the league fixture here on Sunday, Sam Allardyce's team waited until the second half to offer even the briefest sense that they could cause an upset. Even then there were only sporadic moments when they threatened. As for Allardyce's complaints about the referee Phil Dowd's performance, the West Ham manager was not entirely convincing.
His complaint was essentially alleging favouritism, angered that Dowd had awarded a penalty against Jordan Spence for handling Ryan Giggs's cross but not taken the same action after the ball had struck Rafael Da Silva's arm early in the second half. "The difference is that Jordan Spence plays for West Ham and Rafael plays for Manchester United. The incidents are the same. If you give one, you've got to give both, simple as that."
Allardyce was sufficiently annoyed to risk an FA charge – the rules forbid any suggestion of refereeing bias – but his argument was undermined by the fact that Spence's handball came from a cross when there was distance between him and the opposition player, whereas Rafael's was at point-blank range. Allardyce, all things considered, might have been better off expressing his anger at his team's performance. It was terribly drab, with only a 15-minute spell in the second half when they looked as if they might recover from that moment, after nine minutes, when Rooney turned the ball in from close range.
It was Rooney's ninth goal of the season, quite possibly the easiest and certainly the most poignant, Rooney celebrating by pointing to the skies in a dedication to his wife Coleen's younger sister, Rosie McLoughlin, who died on 5 January after a long illness.
Anderson started the move with a wonderfully measured through-ball, dissecting the entire West Ham defence and leaving Hernández running clear on goal through the inside-left channel. Hernández took a touch to open up the shooting angle but had the presence of mind to realise that Rooney was sprinting through the middle. Once the ball was played across the six-yard area all Rooney had to do was make sure he applied a full touch.
The response from West Ham was poor. Throughout the entire match they barely examined whether Anders Lindegaard, deputising for David de Gea, might be a touch rusty. Ferguson praised the way Phil Jones and Chris Smalling marshalled a young, experimental defence but Allardyce had played a weakened side and the truth was they made it fairly straightforward for their opponents.
Perhaps with a touch more ambition it might have been different. United had three players – Rooney, Anderson and Nani – returning from injury and a right-winger, Antonio Valencia, who has been off form for several weeks now. Their best player was Ryan Giggs, prompting Ferguson to say the 39-year-old could continue next season, but it was a night when the home side could get away with not playing at their maximum. They controlled the match while giving the impression they were a good two or three notches below their best.
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image: © Audrey Pilato