United get in front and stay there this time
Manchester Utd 1 West Ham Utd 0:Manchester United avoided having to come from behind, a trend that has plagued them this season, though the performance was still stuttering enough to concern Alex Ferguson. United maintain their status as Premier League leaders but this was a low-gear display that allowed West Ham to keep hoping right to the end.
Michael Carrick threaded a ball into Robin van Persie and, after a turn, his shot looped off James Collins over Jussi Jaaskelainen and in for a lead after only 33 seconds.
This had Sam Allardyce, sporting his Movember moustache, trotting down the steps from his manager’s perch to offer instructions to his team. Yet, though this brightest of beginnings continued through Anderson marauding down the right and Van Persie, who had another shot, the visitors responded well.
Ferguson had identified Kevin Nolan, who scored the winner here in September 2002 for Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers, as a threat: “He is certainly effective and near goal as dangerous as any other midfielder in the game,” he said. After collecting an early booking the Hammers captain proved Ferguson right.
From a Matt Taylor free-kick down the left Nolan produced a back-heeled volleyed flick at Anders Lindegaard’s goal that sent the ball just wide of the Dane’s right post.
Then, Nolan came close to profiting from another Taylor cross. This one came from the opposite flank and the winger’s right foot after a 23rd-minute corner was returned to him: the centre sent the ball skimming across the turf but Nolan could not quite reach it and Lindegaard gathered.
For United Javier Hernandez made Jaaskelainen dive low to his left to keep West Ham only a goal behind and later on the Mexico striker miscontrolled when one-on-one with the goalkeeper as half-time approached.
As the teams trooped off for the break, it was clear that Ferguson’s side had faded a little and West Ham were still in it.
Chris Smalling had replaced Rio Ferdinand, while Hernandez, Carrick and Cleverley were also fresh names in the United XI.
Allardyce’s four changes from Sunday’s defeat by Tottenham Hotspur were Guy Demel, Matt Jarvis, Taylor and Collins, and he will have been pleased by his side’s start to the second half.
Within seconds Mohamed Diame found himself with an opening but the midfielder’s angled shot was turned behind by Lindegaard for a corner.
At the break Ferguson would no doubt have told his players to wake up and now they did so. The manager had sent out his side in the diamond formation with Carrick at the base, Rooney at the tip and Anderson and Cleverley inbetween – and it was the latter who sparked United.
After Van Persie battled for the ball in the area it fell to Cleverley and from 25 yards out he fired a blazing shot which Jaaskelainen repelled with a fine fingertip save.
Next up Carrick took aim and missed before Rooney, positioned to the left of 18-yard line, curled one that was again well saved by West Ham’s goalkeeper.
From Van Persie’s subsequent corner a scramble ended with Nolan managing to clear the danger as Evans threatened to finish at close range.
Rooney had them in more pleasant mode with his dribble and pass to Van Persie, a move the Dutchman might have finished. Later Ashley Young roamed into the area but failed to find a team-mate and, Hernandez’s clever run ended with a tame shot. It was that kind of night.