Desmond Kane

United’s lust for League Cup can help Moyes see out stormy start

There was a telling quote from Sir Alex Ferguson a few weeks ago that illustrated Manchester United's new-found affection for the League Cup under David Moyes, a trophy that Fergie himself perhaps once regarded as an ornament you wouldn't furnish your toilet with.

“For David, winning a trophy would be a fantastic achievement," said Ferguson. "No matter what it is - the League Cup, FA Cup, European Cup or Premier League. We've always had priorities obviously, and David is aware of that but I hope he achieves it."

Ferguson slightly warmed to the competition after winning the old League Cup in successive years in 2009 and 2010 almost by accident. The policy of using the tournament - these days known as the Capital One Cup - to field youngsters and give fringe players a run-out could not prevent United from collecting the pot four times during the Ferguson era.

He also made off with it 1992 and 2006. The departure of Ferguson has encouraged a new lust for League Cup life around Old Trafford.

Moyes and his side were already warmed up for the tournament’s quarter-finals at Stoke last night amid driving winds, rains and a hailstorm that forced the match referee Mark Clattenburg to suspend matters for 10 minutes in the first half before the worst of the weather subsided.

United’s overwhelming desire to progress seemed to translate from players to fans judging by some of the reaction emanating from the visiting diehards when Ashley Young found the opening goal on 63 minutes. Young fairly unloaded a howitzer from 25 yards that was beyond the Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen before he knew it.

Young has became a figure more synonymous with diving to win penalties, a sort of £18 million misfit winger who was once worthwhile. Astonishingly, this was his first goal for United since May 2012.

It was almost as if he had himself forgotten what a talented attacker he is with such a pure strike of the football from Javier Hernandez’s pass. It was the type of hit the Stoke manager Mark Hughes used to revel in when 'Sparky' threw a thigh of Welsh lamb through the football back in the day under Fergie.

It was a two-fingered salute to some of his critics, including the former United captain Roy Keane, who had recently described Young's form as "not good enough" during the 1-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

Young showed he had not lost his penchant for diving by hurling himself into a welcoming and slightly frenzied band of United supporters behind a goal.

Around 15 minutes later Patrice Evra had curled United into the semi-finals and a two-legged meeting with Sunderland next month courtesy of a lovely effort. Around 15 minutes later the feisty array of festive-feeling visiting fans were singing “Come on David Moyes” to greet the 2-0 win. Three clean sheets and three successive wins are heady times indeed under the new manager.

There was also positive news regarding Wayne Rooney, who may return from a groin injury to face West Ham this weekend. All good if all a bit melodramatic, but that is the way life tends to envelop clubs like United.

Moyes must feel like he has contested his own season before Christmas. It has been a wildly fluctuating few months so far with his side safely into the last 16 of the Champions League, but 10 points adrift of leaders Arsenal in the Premier League. So here was another bright spot in the dank, dark wind tunnel of the Britannia Stadium.

Assuming we are not classing the Community Shield as true football bullion, Moyes should get the chance to put his first trophy on the board as United manager in the League Cup final at Wembley on March 2.

Assuming United can hurdle Sunderland and Manchester CIty see off West Ham, they are likely to face their neighbours in the final. As a chance to prove a point, it would not get any better for Moyes or United than a win over City.

Ferguson was four years into the job at United before he hoisted up the FA Cup in 1990 as his first trophy. Moyes would never be granted such a lengthy abstention from the rostrum, but picking up something tangible so soon in his tenure would soothe the minds of some of his most vociferous critics still living in the past.

Winning the League Cup would buy Moyes some goodwill especially if his side fail to defend the Premier League title. If they can do it against City, all the better.

United have used the League Cup to stimulate impetus in recent times. They ended a two-year wait for a trophy when they won the League Cup by walloping Wigan 4-0 in Cardiff seven years ago.

It came in a period when Arsenal had won the Premier League in 2004 before Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea carried off the title in 2005 and 2006.

The League Cup win over Wigan allowed United to revisit the taste of wallowing in trinkets. They clearly enjoyed the moment by galloping to their first championship in four years the following season.

It prompted a golden period of success for United under Ferguson that saw them rampage to three straight Premier Leagues while picking up the Champions League in 2008 with a win over Chelsea on penalties after a sodden night in Moscow.

There are no hard facts to suggest history will repeat itself, but there is a purpose to winning on stinking, wretched evenings like the one that confronted United in Stoke that Fergie knows only too well.

For his fellow Scot Moyes, lifting the League Cup would give him a knowing sense of belief that he is heading in the right direction whatever else lies in store in the New Year.

“It’s really important to win trophies," said Evra. "I remember the League Cup was the first I won at Manchester United.”

After some discomforting moments so far this season, the health benefits of Wembley success for all concerned but especially Moyes should not be underestimated.