Noble sparks Hammers rally


WEST HAM flirted with Carling Cup defeat for a second time this season before another late goal from captain Scott Parker prompted a stirring comeback.

The Hammers looked to be facing a fourth-round elimination when Stoke striker Kenwyne Jones headed the visitors in front at Upton Park after just six minutes.

But inspired substitutions from manager Avram Grant, who threw on livewire forward Victor Obinna and midfield dynamo Mark Noble, swung the tie the Hammers’ way.

With six minutes remaining Parker equalised when he converted a cross from Pablo Barrera, echoing his last-ditch winner in the second round against lowly Oxford United.

Then in extra time Noble seized centre stage, leading Stoke’s weary defence a merry dance before teeing up defender Manuel da Costa to put West Ham in front.

Noble also laid on a third for Grant’s men, his through-ball allowing Nigerian Obinna to clinch victory and a place in the quarter-finals in the 118th minute.

A rousing comeback could be the perfect tonic for the struggling Hammers, who languish at the bottom of the Premier League. But they will wish they could have sparked their resurgence against Sunderland a little earlier, as midweek extra-time is far from ideal preparation for a visit to free-scoring Arsenal on Saturday.

Downing corker books Villa’s place

ASTON VILLA needed an extra-time winning goal from Stewart Downing before seeing off Burnley 2-1 in their fourth round tie. The scoresheet stayed blank until the 86th minute, when Emile Heskey sidefooted Villa in front. Defender Clarke Carlisle headed Burnley level in the 89th minute but early in extra-time England winger Downing’s 20-yard effort sent the home side into the last eight. Villa’s victory means Ispwich will be the only Championship side in Saturday’s quarter-final draw.