Manchester United

West Ham FC: Walking In A Winter Wonderland

There might be only one historic upset in pretty, snowy conditions this season in all of English Football. If that turns out to be the case, then Tuesday, November 30th, was it.

The setting was Upton Park, not too far east of the Tower Bridge on the Thames. The fixture was a Carling Cup fifth round match between West Ham United and Manchester United. The weather was light snow and 25 degrees Fahrenheit. And it was a memorable, fun, and even dreamy 4-0 rout of Manchester United by some unlikely West Ham heroes.

In a season that has West Ham stuck at the bottom of the Premier League table, this performance will be remembered for many years, and could mark a key turning point in the team's quest for 35 points to save themselves from relegation. Extra emphasis on the word "could," because right now, West Ham has just 12 points as they near the halfway point of the season. Simply put, they need a solid win streak to save themselves, and seldom have we ever seen a team rescue itself from 20th place after Boxing Day, which is just 3 matches away.

This victory is not being portrayed by the sports media as an upset of epic proportions, as it was a League Cup game. This wasn't the FA Cup. This wasn't for the Premiership title. But Wes Ham's fans will remember it for years. For them, in that snowy evening, it was unforgettable. They were the least likely of teams to end Manchester United's undefeated run of 29 matches in all competitions.

And even we Americans have a new star to keep an eye on: Illinois native, Jonathan Spector. Here's a guy who has played for English clubs the last 7 years, mainly as a reservist defender, scoring only one league goal during that time. His manager moved him to center midfield for this game and what did he do? He scored the first two goals [video from our Russian pirate friends]. He almost scored three goals, but his first strike was disallowed on a late offsides call.

Not to get too excited, but I'm sure Bob Bradley and the rest of the US national team staff are watching. Spector was selected as a reservist for the 2010 World Cup, but performances like this could have him start tournament games in Brazil, when he will be 28 years old and in his prime. We could have our first storyline for the USA's 2014 World Cup campaign. So remember that name...Jonathan Spector.

The Hammers were the last team anyone expected to beat Sir Alex Ferguson's side, and yet it was historically appropriate, as great things have happened before in West Ham's midweek cup matches. A string of wins led them to claim the FA Cup in 1980 (they were in Division 2 at the time, so they were the last team outside the top flight to win the tournament). Tuesday's victory marked the first time the Hammers advanced to a League Cup semifinal since 1989. And this was West Ham's biggest winning margin against Man U in anyone's lifetime. On December 31 1971, they defeated Man U 3-0. So this was quite special indeed.

Sir Alex and his Red Devils didn't dwell on this defeat for a moment. So they won't be winning the Carling Cup in February. But their dismal defensive performance is a reminder to everyone that even the best teams can enter a pitch and become almost stoic and motionless. And any side -especially a desperate home side in front of equally desperate fans- can take complete advantage of a superior team that refuses to dominate. The first and final goal in particular saw the Hammers driving the ball through the box while United players practically stood and watched. Sir Alex had to be embarrassed and furious, but he did a fine job hiding his emotions.The first two goals were scored by Specor. The final two goals were scored by another unlikely hero, striker Carlton Cole, who is likely to be sold during the January transfer window.

Four goals. Surprise heroes. Pretty snow. An historic victory. It really was a thing of beauty, no matter how trivial United supporters or the press saw it.