Teenage striker Marcus Rashford scored the winner to guide Manchester United to a 2-1 victory over West Ham on Wednesday that put his team into the FA Cup semifinals and eased the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal.
In the last cup tie at the Upton Park Stadium before West Ham moves to the Olympic Stadium, 18-year-old Rashford opened the scoring with a superb strike in the 54th minute, curling the ball past defender James Tomkins and goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
Midfielder Marouane Fellaini doubled the lead in the 67th minute from close range, before Tomkins gave the home side hope with a header in the 79th.
The victory provided a welcome relief for Van Gaal, who was quick to defend both his record and his reputation among Europe’s top coaches.
“I do my work, do my utmost best and everywhere I worked I have won something,” he said. “I am selected by Manchester United because of that. Not because I’m a lousy trainer or manager.”
However, his team has stuttered all season and is fifth in the Premier League.
United remains four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with just six games to go, and its chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League were dealt a blow last weekend when Tottenham defeated Van Gaal’s team 3-0.
With former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho linked with United in British media reports, defeat against West Ham would have ratcheted up the pressure on the Dutchman even more.
Now he has a semifinal against Everton on April 23 at Wembley Stadium to prepare for as United aims to add to its 11 triumphs and equal Arsenal’s record of 12.
“You cannot deny my team has a lot of fighting spirit,” Van Gaal said.
For West Ham, which lies in sixth place in the Premier League, this season has marked real progress.
Coach Slaven Bilic was disappointed in his team’s performance but conceded that United deserved the win.
“Their composure on the ball, their passing of the ball, their tackling in the fifty-fifties, they were better than us,” he said. “Their players looked fresher, stronger and quicker.”
Elsewhere, Crystal Palace failed in its bid to secure back-to-back wins in the English Premier League and move further away from the relegation zone after being held to a 0-0 draw by 10-man Everton.
James McCarthy’s dismissal early in the second half presented a fine opportunity to secure the three points that would almost certainly have meant the team’s survival in the Premier League.
Though 16th in the Premier League, Palace looks likely to survive as the club is 11 points clear of the relegation zone. However, it has difficult fixtures ahead against Arsenal and Manchester United.
Everton is safe but has had a mixed season. The draw against Palace owed much to goalkeeper Joel Robles, who denied Palace forward Jason Puncheon a clear chance in the second half.