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FA Premiership
Saturday, 29th December 2007

West Ham United 2
Manchester United 1

by Jacob Steinberg


Funny game, football. West Ham, injury ravaged and without a home win since 21st October against struggling Sunderland. Manchester United, League Champions and current leaders. You'd have thought there could only be one result, but sometimes these matches don't play out as expected. Cristiano Ronaldo miss a penalty? One for the collector's book, as were two late headed goals from Anton Ferdinand and Matthew Upson which proved decisive.

It was an emotional day at Upton Park, thanks to the presence of returning hero Carlos Tevez, who moved to Old Trafford in the summer, but whose goals at the end of last season helped West Ham beat the drop. He was afforded a standing ovation when his name was read out, and the moment became so highly strung that matchday announcer Jeremy Nicholas nearly forgot to read out the United substitutes.

The rest of us had barely caught our breath either after a whirlwind start by West Ham which had caught the visitors napping, Nobby Solano denied by Patrice Evra's last ditch challenge, and Lucas Neill curling a shot just wide.

Most present had assumed Alan Curbishley's 4-5-1 formation belied defensive intent, yet West Ham attacked their opponents from the off. Indeed they should have opened the scoring on eight minutes, but Hayden Mullins directed Carlton Cole's cute flick on to the bar, and Mark Noble blazed the rebound over the gaping net.

That proved costly, with United so adept at soaking up the pressure before breaking at will, and their opener fourteen minutes in was counter-attacking football at its best. Interplay between Louis Saha and Carlos Tevez released Ryan Giggs on the left, and his cross on to the hurtling Ronaldo's head was perfect. Robert Green had no chance.

West Ham were stung, but kept at it impressively. Their midfield harried and pressed, yet were capable of playing some neat stuff through Solano and he nearly equalised with a stunning long effort which Tomas Kusczack just tipped over. Then Cole, in space, headed Noble's chipped centre over.

United were rattled, yet still possessed bite and Ronaldo shot into the side netting at the end of the half. Even so, they badly missed Wayne Rooney's power in attack and Michael Carrick's midfield fluidity. Both missed out with a virus. In the middle, Owen Hargreaves and Darren Fletcher failed to stamp any authority on proceedings.

The second half began with a spate of substitutions, as West Ham's injury woes continued. Scott Parker and Solano, who had just curled a free kick wide, limped off to be replaced by Anton Ferdinand and John Pantsil. Now West Ham truly were down to the bare bones. Somehow they still competed.

They shouldn't have been allowed to though, after they gifted Manchester United the chance to double their lead, Jonathan Spector needlessly handling in the area. Remarkably Ronaldo sent his spot kick yards wide of the post.

By then Tevez, clearly uncomfortable, had been withdrawn and the miss was the cue for Curbishley to send on Dean Ashton in a bid to bolster his attack and renew East End hopes. Sure enough, they were level with thirteen minutes left, a goal made in the Academy as Ferdinand headed Noble's corner down and past Kusczack.

Upton Park roared its approval and their team forward again. Evra fouled Pantsil, a persistent nuisance on the right on 82 minutes. Again Noble crossed, and this time it was Upson who rose highest and sent his header into the top corner of the goal. Perhaps it wasn't altogether too surprising though. After all, it was only West Ham's third win in a row against United. Funny game, football.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
It's hard to think of too much he faced apart from Ronaldo's goal and penalty. Incidentally he has faced four of those this season alone, and has conceded none.


Lucas Neill
His form has been sketchy of late, and although he lost Giggs for the goal, he denied him anything else and supported the attack when he could.


George McCartney
He couldn't keep up with Ronaldo when he scored, but defended against him well otherwise. He also showed initiative to attack at every opportunity.


Jonathan Spector
A foolish moment for the handball, but he performed well in a number of positions throughout the match.


Matthew Upson
His first goal for the club, and what a time to get it. More importantly he was again outstanding at the back- against the best attack in the country.


Hayden Mullins
He should have scored early on, but his game was more about harrying the opposition into mistakes.


Scott Parker
Similar to Mullins although he was encouraged to drive more. He picked up an unfortunate injury however when tackling Ronaldo.


Nobby Solano
What a shame he had to go off injured. Until then his intelligent promptings were perhaps the best thing about the game.


Freddie Ljungberg
Better than of late, he was always buzzing in and around the area. However he tired in the second half and struggled to involve himself.


Mark Noble
He has been out of the side lately and with good reason some may argue, but he probed diligently throughout and created two goals.


Carlton Cole
He linked well on his own up front, ran after every ball and won his fair share in the air- but his header was poor and he still needs to work on his finishing.


Substitutes


John Paintsil
(replaced Solano, 49) Against the attacking Evra, he did all he could to keep him back. He holds on to the ball well even if he doesn't seem to know where he's going, and this was a real surprise of a game from him.


Anton Ferdinand
(replaced Parker, 55) Although Spector played well, the defence did look more solid with him there and he took his goal well.


Dean Ashton
(replaced Ljungberg, 70) He didn't appear to do much but his introduction gave the team more attacking thrust at a time when the game seemed to be slipping away.


Richard Wright
Did not play.


Henri Camara
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Dean.

Attendance: 34,966.

Man of the Match: Matthew Upson.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Nobby Solano, Freddie Ljungberg, Mark Noble, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Anton Ferdinand 77 Matthew Upson 81                .

Booked: John Paintsil 58 Hayden Mullins 66        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Manchester United

Kuszczak, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Fletcher, Giggs, Tevez, Saha.

Substitutes: Anderson (Tevez 64), Nani (Hargreaves 80), O'Shea (Brown 89).

Subs not used: Heaton, Pique.

Goals: Ronaldo (14).

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None.

 
Jacob Steinberg's Man of the Match: Matthew Upson