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Manchester City head to Wembley on cloud nine

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 - 7:55am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

 A merciful referee spared West Ham United further pain and punishment, giving only one minute's injury time when five was expected. Alvaro Negredo scored twice, Sergio Aguero added another as Manchester City again toyed with Sam Allardyce's weak defence. Only 14,390 turned up to watch this, including a vocal City element who just sang about Wembley. This will be City's 14th ever domestic cup final, their fourth in the League Cup (and first since 1976, as well as 10 FA Cup finals).

There has never been an all-Manchester cup final in the League Cup or FA Cup, although United must first overturn a 2-1 first-leg defeat against Sunderland at Old Trafford tonight. West Ham, meanwhile, will be licking their wounds after another dispiriting evening. West Ham fans had not expected a miracle but they had expected effort. Some were charged pounds 42 a ticket (as well as kids for a quid) and received little return for that sizeable sum. They had wanted to see Allardyce's men playing with some pride in the shirt, constructing at least a speed-bump on City's road to Wembley.

Andy Carroll ran hard for 45 minutes, Ravel Morrison played a few decent first-half passes and made some good second-half dribbles but nothing could really slow Manuel Pellegrini's machine driven hard by Negredo. The attacking zest demanded by Pellegrini was there from the start. City's work-rate was also first-rate again, the eye for goal as keen as usual, particularly Negredo's, and the quality in reserve demonstrated thrillingly by the teenager Marcos Lopes.

The Portuguese attacker began on the left but switched flanks with Jesus Navas for a while and also schemed in the centre. Playing with an intelligence beyond his years, the 18-year-old contributed two assists in the first half as West Ham's defence folded again. The half-full Bobby Moore Stand were chanting "ole" at a brief passing move as the game began, but it was soon City supporters singing even louder about Wembley as the aggregate scoreline showed 7-0 after two minutes.

City's hunger for further goals had already been seen with Pellegrini's team-sheet containing Negredo, Aguero and Navas. It was seen in the way Aguero chased an overhit pass just failing to keep it in. A minute later, the visitors disappeared even further over the horizon. Lopes raced down the left, then lifted the ball across towards Negredo. The Spaniard rose strongly and finished powerfully, making the net billow with his header, but West Ham's marking was absent. It was not the surrender of the Etihad.

Carroll was busy, bustling around until replaced by Carlton Cole, trying to force holes in the bulwarks of City's defence. Morrison was given a chance to prove himself, playing up against Fernandinho and Javi Garcia in central midfield and rarely getting the better of them. Joe Cole was on the left until hobbling off but the main avenue of attack was Mohamed Diame down the right. West Ham did have the ball in the net through Kevin Nolan but he had strayed offside. Morrison then swept the ball right to Diame, who cut in but his left-footed shot was saved by Costel Pantilimon.

Throughout these intermittent attacks, City were hunting a second on the night. Aguero firing in a low shot that Jussi Jaaskelainen pushed around his right-hand post. After 24 minutes, Aguero had his usual goal. Again Lopes provided the assist, a little dart and accurate pass, inviting Aguero to dribble through. Profiting from more hapless defending by West Ham, Aguero glided through and lifted the ball past Jaaskelainen. The Argentine could then have incurred the full wrath of Chris Foy for a challenge on Nolan and then a particularly nasty one on James Tomkins.

Allardyce, wearing his long black undertaker's coat, was incensed and mimicked a stamping motion to the fourth official, Michael Jones. The half finished with a snap-shot from Lopes, arguably the best player of the half. Allardyce removed Carroll at the break, having only planned to give the forward a half as he regains match fitness after that long injury. Carlton Cole came on but the double Cole count lasted only a few minutes before Joe Cole was replaced by Stewart Downing.

The winger's arrival did slightly beg the question as to why Downing had not started in tandem with Carroll. Now attacking the Bobby Moore Stand, Morrison appealed for a couple of penalties when challenged robustly by Joleon Lescott and Garcia but Foy turned away twice. It got worse for West Ham as City simply went down the other end towards the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand. Negredo powered through and elegantly lifted the ball over Jaaskelainen, making it 9-0 to City on aggregate.

"We want 10,'' the visitors chanted. Morrison responded, showing his technique and dribbling skills, by going past Lopes and Garcia before Lescott blocked. After 64 minutes, Stevan Jovetic came on for Aguero, highlighting again City's strength in depth. Jack Rodwell had replaced Garcia, showing a few good touches, joining Navas in creating a chance for -Fernandinho. City almost added a fourth when Negredo's marvellous reverse pass released Navas into space but he shot wide. Navas was then taken off with Aleksandar Kolarov running on. Kolarov immediately tried to take City to double figures on aggregate but his shot was blocked.

Morrison tried to lift a few spirits, embarking on another dribble until running into Fernandinho, who dispossessed him with the firmest of challenges. There was a scare for City when Negredo required attention to his shoulder but he gradually got to his feet and carried on. More worrying for West Ham was Diame requiring a stretcher to carry him away, presenting Allardyce with another injury problem.


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