Looking back at an Old Trafford hammering

Thursday 25 January 2024 09:59

Manchester United’s biggest FA Cup win over a top-flight club came when the Reds were actually suffering a bit of a tough time in the competition.

Our 1999 triumph against Newcastle United at Wembley – the second leg of a glorious Treble – had been followed up by, well, not a lot as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were not even around to try to make it a repeat in 2000, due to our involvement in the Club World Championship in Brazil, while meek fourth-round exits to mid-table Premier League sides West Ham United and Middlesbrough in the subsequent two seasons ended the Reds' interest in the cup before January was out.

Two wins across three seasons was a meagre total for a club that had lifted the famous old trophy four times during the 1990s, reaching another final in 1995.

So, after a 4-1 belting of second-tier leaders Portsmouth had set up another Old Trafford meeting with the Hammers in the fourth round of 2003, supporters could have been forgiven for not wanting to go too overboard with the ‘Que sera, sera’ chants.

Ryan Giggs got the ball rolling at Old Trafford.

Memories of Paolo Di Canio poking the ball beyond a stationary Fabien Barthez to settle the aforementioned 2001 tie loomed large before the game, but the firebrand Italian was persona non grata at the time due to a row with manager Glenn Roeder.

The east Londoners – winless in 14 league games and bottom of the table – was crumbling in his absence.

United, buoyed by a midweek win at Blackburn Rovers to move into the Worthington Cup final, sensed the weakness and soon set about gaining revenge for that two-year-old reverse.

It took Ryan Giggs just eight minutes to open the scoring, as he capitalised on Gary Breen’s timid clearance, and Breen was again left red-faced on the half hour when Giggs’s first-time strike hit him on the arm and looped into the net to make it 2-0.

The winger was going through arguably his toughest spell at United – he was without a league goal at Old Trafford since April 2001 – but the Hammers couldn’t cope with him for much of this encounter.

“There’s not a player on the planet who isn’t affected by confidence, but, today, Ryan was back on top form,” said Ferguson. “You see him today, he was terrific and he’s back to his best.”

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The Reds machine moved into overdrive after the break, tearing through West Ham at will.

Ruud van Nistelrooy scored the pick of the goals, turning on the edge of the box and evading a couple of tackles before scything a shot into the top corner.

And you knew it was going to be a day to remember when, a minute later, Phil Neville combined with Diego Forlan and lifted one over David James.

Van Nistelrooy, unstoppable against even the best defences in 2002/03, evaded another desperate Breen challenge to bring up no.5 and then played in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Norwegian unable to miss out on the mauling.

Reports suggest West Ham should have had a late penalty at the other end, but it wouldn’t have even been a consolation at this stage, as an under-pressure Roeder helplessly watched on.

Even Phil Neville got in on the act!

“Roeder went to see Ferguson for a drink after the game but he could have done with one with 21 minutes left and six goals down,” wrote Sam Wallace, of The Independent.

The Londoners’ league form did improve but they were relegated at the end of the campaign, with Roeder missing the last three games after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Although he did briefly return to the West Ham hotseat and later managed Newcastle and Norwich City, it was a condition that he battled with until his sad and untimely passing in 2021.

Ferguson’s men advanced to the fifth round, where we’d be defeated by eventual winners Arsenal at Old Trafford, Edu and Sylvain Wiltord making Giggs rue his open-goal miss at 0-0.

Only once in the intervening years have United won an FA Cup tie by a 6-0 goal margin and that came on Merseyside, with Solskjaer’s Reds enjoying a visit to third-tier Tranmere Rovers in January 2020.