Saturday, 6th January 2001
A Frank Lampard strike and a Freddy Kanoute brace were enough to ensure Harry Redknapp's men went one stage further in this seasons competition than the last.
Redknapp knew his team had to be at their best today. Walsall's record at the Bescot Stadium thus far this season read, before the start of play won 10, drawn 3 and lost 1.
And the sole defeat? Against West Ham in the Worthington Cup back in September.
The first surprise of the afternoon was the issue of the captaincy. Back in August KUMB exclusively revealed that Frank Lampard was being considered for the role this season.
Well, that proved to be perhaps slightly wide of the mark as the job has gone mainly to either Steve Lomas or Paolo Di Canio. But yesterday Lampard was given the job for the first time in the absence of the other two - and it certainly appeared to give him the extra gear that he has been strangely lacking this season.
Those of you who can cast your minds back to previous forgettable cup campaigns will have been refreshed to see the Hammers first out of the blocks. Redknapp had obviously instilled into his players the quality of the opposition, and that they were not to be taken lightly. Not that many would have needed reminding after they gave us a footballing lesson at Upton Park earlier in the season.
With this in mind the opening goal after just five minutes was no surprise. A sweet move involving Joe Cole and Freddy Kanoute (whose backheel was one of the most sublime touches you will witness on a football field all season) left Frank Lampard, making a probing run from midfield with the simple job of beating keeper James Walker from 10 yards to give the Hammers an early advantage.
So early fears allayed, the Hammers began to play some quality football on a pitch that would be better described as a cow field. It was like the good old days at Upton Park all over again; who can forget the state of those goalmouths after Christmas every season when the mud was ankle deep at times?
On half an hour the home side were level. George Leitao's hopeful flick on was criminally allowed to run into the box courtesy of more errant defending from Rigobert Song. Young Wrack, who was only drafted into the team at the eleventh hour gleefully accepted the gift and blasted home from 8 yards. Song knew he was at fault - again; he buried his head in his hands to hide his face from the horrified looks of his team mates.
The Hammers came back strongly, and Walsall keeper Walker had to be at his best to deny Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. But it was the home side who had the best opportunity to go into the break ahead; Hislop had to be at his best to deny Brett Angell whose fierce header was well tipped away.
The Hammers regained their lead twelve minutes into the second period. Titi 'The Tripod' Camara went on a probing run before finding Joe Cole free wide on the right. Cole adjusted before sending in a deep, probing cross which Freddy Kanoute, rising highest firmly nodded past the helpless Walker.
Trevor Sinclair could have added a third shortly after but his 20 yard rocket crashed against the bar. Shortly after Walker managed to deny the Hammers with three incredible short range saves on the spin.
But the writing was on the wall for the home side in this pulsating cup-tie, and Freddy Kanoute soon added the third which gave the Hammers some valuable breathing space.
Titi Camara, ineffective overall but influential for a second time in the half teed up Kanoute on the edge of the box. The big fella made no hesitation in drilling the ball into the corner past the prone Walker.
Still there was more to come; just three minutes from time Brett Angell was allowed to squeeze between the Hammers rearguard to toe-poke home Walsall's second from six yards.
It meant a frantic last few minutes for Harry Redknapp's men but they stood firm, and greeted Andy D'Urso's final whistle with a reaction normally reserved for an important away win in the league. They had done a good job today, and knew it.
Overall it was a cracking cup-tie, and a great advert for English football. To reiterate; what was especially refreshing was the attitude of Redknapp's players from the start - a thoroughly professional performance which deserved applause from those who still remember the likes of Tranmere, Swansea, Torquay, Stockport, Hereford and Mansfield - to name but a few - just a bit too painfully.
West Ham United: Hislop, Winterburn, S.Pearce, Tihinen, Sinclair, Song, Carrick, Lampard, Cole, Camara, Kanoute
Subs: Forrest, Potts, Basilla (Camara 89), Keller, Moncur
Walsall: Walker, Brightwell, Tilson, Alday, Aranalde, Barras, Bukran, Bennett, Wrack, Hall, Angell
Subs: Emberson, Byfield (Leitao 60), Marsh (Brightwell 77), Keates (Hall 64), Ekelund
Goals: Lampard (5), Wrack (33), Kanoute (57, 81), Angell (87)
Sent off: none
Referee: Andy D'Urso (Billericay)
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