Man City v Hammers

A deadly double strike from Dean Ashton sent West Ham United into the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in 15 years at Manchester City on Monday night.

The powerful striker struck four minutes before half-time and midway through the second half to send Hammers into a 2-0 lead before Kiki Musampa pulled one back for 10-man City with five minutes remaining to set up a nervy finish.

Alan Pardew's men had been gradually strengthening their grip on the game anyway before Chinese defender Sun Jihai was shown a red card with more than half an hour still to play for lashing out at Matthew Etherington, and ended the night fully deserving their place in the last four of football's greatest cup competition.

Following home defeats in the Premiership just 48 hours earlier, both managers made wholesale changes to their starting line-ups in an understandable bid for FA Cup glory - an achievement neither club has managed in more than 25 years.

City boss Stuart Pearce made no fewer than eight changes in personnel, while Pardew made seven. Goalkeeper Shaka Hislop was fit enough to return after a hamstring strain, but Anton Ferdinand missed out with a thigh injury, meaning that James Collins came in alongside his Welsh international team-mate Danny Gabbidon in the centre of defence.

Elsewhere, Lionel Scaloni made way for Christian Dailly at right-back, while Hayden Mullins, Etherington, Yossi Benayoun, Marlon Harewood and Ashton returned after missing the 4-2 defeat against Portsmouth.

The hosts made the livelier start on a bitterly-cold night in Manchester, with Musampa and Bradley Wright-Phillips both testing Hislop early on. On 12 minutes, Musampa wasted an excellent chance to open the scoring when he charged into the penalty area but blasted high over the bar.

Midway through the first half, the hosts were cursing their luck when defender Stephen Jordan was forced off injured to be replaced by David Sommeil and, just 15 minutes later, they were dealt an even heavier blow as Hammers took the lead.

Picking up the ball on the left touchline, Ashton played some neat return passes with Etherington and then Reo-Coker before turning past Dunne on to his left-foot and surging into the penalty area before sending a sublime effort past David James at the near post to send the 4,000 travelling Hammers fans wild with delight and send his team into a confidence-boosting half-time lead.

The second half began with the visitors looking more assured thanks to their crucial breakthrough, and Etherington might have extended the lead on 54 minutes when he latched on to a knock-down and unleashed a dipping volley from 25 yards out that left James stranded but clipped off the top of the crossbar and out for a goal-kick.

Just two minutes later, the hosts were down to 10 men as Jihai received his marching orders, for needlessly swinging an arm at Etherington as the pair contested a loose ball near the corner flag, and as Hammers continued to look dangerous on the break, City didn't appear to possess the firepower to cause any real problems at the other end.

With just 20 minutes remaining, the visitors claimed the crucial second goal, albeit in slightly bizarre circumstances. Racing down the right, Christian Dailly was left slumped in a heap near the corner flag as his cross sailed into the arms of James.

As play carried on with City in possession, the jeers of the Hammers crowd were backed up by Stuart Pearce's call for his team to kick the ball out of play and allow the Scottish international to be treated. However, as Nigel Reo-Coker won back possession, it appeared that many of the players hadn't actually noticed the injured player lying prostrate high up the field.

Referee Howard Webb allowed play to continue and, as Alan Pardew joined in the attempts to halt proceedings, Reo-Coker released Benayoun, who lifted the ball over the advancing James, allowing Ashton to tap into an empty net for his fifth goal in six starts for the Club, much to the delight of the fans behind the goal and much to the annoyance of the astounded City supporters.

Dailly was immediately substituted with what was later revealed to be a torn hamstring, and his replacement Scaloni was then joined by Bobby Zamora and Carl Fletcher as Hammers attempted to close the game out.

With five minutes remaining, it appeared that City might have produced an unlikely lifeline when Musampa volleyed home a superb effort from the edge of the penalty area that gave Hislop no chance, but Pardew's men held out against an aerial bombardment in the closing stages, as Collins and Gabbidon stood firm together in the centre of defence.

As the delirious Hammers fans celebrated at the final whistle, and Alan Pardew and his players went over to accept their acclaim, it was almost too amazing to believe that, just 12 months after wondering if we would be facing another season in the Championship, West Ham United are now a top 10 Premiership Club and just 90 minutes away from our first FA Cup final in 26 years and a possible place in Europe next season…