LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher says the team owe their supporters a huge response following their FA Cup defeat to Swansea City on Sunday and have the perfect opportunity to make amends against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup.
West Ham United, who themselves crashed out of the tournament after being hammered 5-0 by Nottingham Forest, will also be looking to recover quickly but have a much harder task when they travel to Manchester City on Wednesday.
The Premier League champions lost 2-1 at home to exit the FA Cup at the first hurdle for only the fourth time in 34 years with Swansea winning at Old Trafford for the first time and inflicting United’s fourth home defeat in six matches.
United now travel to Sunderland on Tuesday for the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final with a place at Wembley awaiting the eventual winners, and Fletcher told United’s television channel MUTV that the players needed to respond.
“It’s a League Cup semi-final, if you can’t lift yourself for that then it’s no good,” he said.
“We have got a great opportunity, we are away to Sunderland and we’ve got to recover quickly and lift ourselves. It’s a massive game now.”
The Scottish international, back in the side after a long illness, praised the attitude of United’s fans saying: ”They’re really sticking by us and that’s great to see - we’ve got to repay that.
”When we got to the Stretford End, there were a lot of fans clapping and singing for United. The players have got to see that and know that the fans are behind us and put performances in for the them, the manager and the staff.
“It’s got to happen sooner rather than later and there’s no better occasion than the semi-final on Tuesday.”
United have stuttered for most of the campaign under David Moyes, who took over from Alex Ferguson after he retired at the end of last season, and Monday’s newspapers made gloomy reading for the club and its fans with the Daily Telegraph headline reading “Crumbling Empire”.
The Times said that Moyes’s “problem gets bigger as United sink lower” with the manager himself saying his squad did need strengthening, although he thought they were the better side against Swansea and unlucky to lose.
While United will want to pick themselves up against Premier League strugglers Sunderland, who advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over League One club Carlisle United on Sunday, so will West Ham United.
The Hammers lost to Championship (first division) promotion contenders Nottingham Forest, with manager Sam Allardyce fielding a significantly weakened team.
Allardyce claimed he had no choice because of a long injury list and with survival in the Premier League his priority, and fielded seven youngsters with three making their debuts.
“What choice did I have?” he queried afterwards.
”I made them (owners David Gold and David Sullivan) aware of what would happen. I‘m not in the position to go and do these things without telling everybody internally what is planned for the next few games.
”My hands are tied behind my back every time I see what’s available and the team is almost picking itself,“ he said. ”It’s a disaster at the moment, a total disaster and in certain areas we’ve not been able to cope.
”My priorities meant I put too many youngsters in and they were not able to withstand Forest’s pressure in the last half an hour.
“I picked the team so it is my responsibility. You know what my priorities are: the Premier League first and then Capital One Cup.”
Forest’s victory was the biggest by a lower league team over a top division side in the FA Cup since then-second division West Ham beat Arsenal 6-0 68 years ago and the nature of the defeat heaped more pressure on the beleaguered Allardyce.
West Ham, who are second from bottom in the Premier League, travel to second-placed Manchester City for the first leg of their semi-final with the hosts odds-on favourites to advance.
They also failed to reach the fourth round of the cup on Saturday but are at least still in the competition after a 1-1 draw at Championship side Blackburn Rovers and should prove too strong for whatever side West Ham field on Wednesday.
Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by John O'Brien