Liverpool stunned by Ince

30 November 1988
League Cup fourth round.
Boleyn Ground
West Ham United 4-1 Liverpool

The Division One table had a surreal look about it one-third of the way through the 1988/89 season but that did not stop West Ham United upsetting the odds.

Table-topping Norwich City led Arsenal, Millwall and fourth-placed Liverpool, while down in the basement, only Newcastle United stood between West Ham United and bottom spot. So when the reigning league champions arrived at the Boleyn Ground, John Lyall knew that his side needed to pull off an equally unlikely result against the likes of Ronnie Whelan, Peter Beardsley, Steve Nicol, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge.

Never in his wildest dreams, however, could the manager have envisaged that his relegation-bound side would send the mighty Reds to their heaviest domestic cup defeat since February 1939. Just four days earlier, United had lost at home to Everton and the bookmakers were now laying short odds upon them succumbing to a second successive Merseyside 'mare.

"We had Liam Brady and Alan Devonshire playing together for the first time that season," recalled the late Lyall in his autobiography Just Like My Dreams. "I played Dev wide on the right for the first time in nine years - he was magnificent - and those two old heads helped the youngsters secure one of the most memorable cup victories of my time at West Ham United."

Certainly, aided and abetted by those mature midfielders, one confident, 21-year-old Cockney kid helped to turn the form book upside down with a destructive display that had the tabloids declaring that he had made 'Ince-meat' of Liverpool. Indeed, the Reds did not know what had hit them when Paul Ince sensationally sent an 18-yard volley sizzling past Mike Hooper midway through the first half, before heading home Devonshire's delightfully delivered 25th-minute corner.

'For half-an-hour, Liverpool could not withstand the West Ham force,' announced The Times. 'They were as powerful as a tropical whirlwind, sweeping all before them and going ahead through two spectacular goals.' However, Alvin Martin's shove on Aldridge allowed the Republic of Ireland striker to give his side hope with a clinical 32nd-minute penalty that gave Allen McKnight no chance.

But as the hour-mark approached, Liverpool pressed the self-destruct button when the stooping Steve Staunton agonisingly headed David Kelly's innocuous-looking cross past his own goalkeeper. With West Ham United now firmly back in the driving seat, Tony Gale then conjured up a classy finish to a classic evening by curling a delightful 20-yard free-kick over the Reds' wall and under the left-hand angle.

"When you beat Liverpool at all you are very pleased, but to beat them 4-1 leaves you delighted. It was a magical performance - a special night," observed Lyall who would see his side go on to beat Aston Villa in the quarter-finals before falling to eventual runners-up Luton Town in the last four. "The fans applauded both teams off the field at the end, and that night I think we saw the emergence of a new young star. Ince scored twice against Liverpool, refused a TV interview after the game and went home quietly. From that moment on, though, bigger clubs began taking notice of him."

Meanwhile, the two 30-something midfield maestros had left the Daily Telegraph roaring: "The West Ham display, like the 4-1 result, was a throwback to more golden days. It was fitting that the veterans, Brady and Devonshire, should enjoy such a prosperous night. Kenny Dalglish admitted his Liverpool side 'deserved nothing' but for the Hammers this was certainly one to store in the archives."

West Ham United: McKnight, Potts, Dicks, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Brady, Dickens, Ince, Kelly, Rosenior.
Subs not used: Keen, Parris.