Tuesday, 23rd February 2010
Zola's side offered little resistance after going behind late on in the first half, which was especially disappointing given their bright opening to the match - and that only ten games remain in this season's Premier League campaign.
Alex Ferguson's side - who started as if they had one eye on this weekend's Carling Cup final - were well below par initially but despite improving dramatically rarely had to step out of second gear on a bitterly cold night in Manchester.
West Ham, with just one change from the side that comfortable beat Hull at the weekend briefly threatened to upset the odds with a strong opening half-hour before rolling over, in typical fashion for this fixture, having gone behind to a 38th minute Wayne Rooney goal.
The home side - who confirmed their win in the second half with another from Rooney and a late strike by substitute Michael Owen, who always seems to score against West Ham - failed to register a shot on target until Rob Green made a great save with his feet from Dimitar Berbatov on 26 minutes.
That was mainly due to a bright start from United who went at their hosts from the off, with Valon Behrami going closest to breaking the deadlock in those early stages with a shot that flashed across the face of Ben Foster's goal.
The Swiss midfielder's effort was followed by a deflected Alessandro Diamanti shot a minute later that had Foster scrambling back to push the ball clear of goal from under the crossbar. However that was about as good as it got for Zola's side who were never at the races once Rooney opened the scoring seven minutes ahead of the break.
A deep cross-field ball by Berbatov was volleyed back across goal by the excellent Valencia who found the head of the in-form Rooney, left criminally unmarked for the first time in the game. The England striker buried the ball beyond Green with a bullet header that left the Irons 'keeper with no chance.
Rooney almost doubled his personal tally two minutes later when a hopeful volley on the turn clipped Green's bar before bouncing behind to safety. However he had to wait just 10 minutes of the second period before notching his second of the night after he was left criminally unmarked, once more, in the six-yard box. Yet again Valencia, who gave poor Jon Spector a torrid time, was provider for Rooney who simply couldn't miss from four yards.
The Irons had a great opportunity to get back into the game just two minutes after Rooney had put the home side 2-0 up when Valon Behrami's cross from the byeline was inches away from being converted by the well-below-par Carlton Cole, who was inches away from converting the cross with his head.
Thereafter however Ferguson's side coasted to victory and it was no surprise when Owen, long a thorn in the side of West Ham added a third goal ten minutes from time - les than two minutes after he had replaced Rooney, who left the field to a standing ovation.
With Mark Noble flat out on the ground having gone down moments earlier, Manchester seized upon the advantage and Paul Scholes played the former England striker in; Owen cooly lifting the ball above the advancing Green to wrap up a comprehensive victory.
For United there were few positives on the night, at least in the final hour of the game, as once again the teams' senior players failed to shine. Grabbing at straws it may be but the return of Kieron Dyer for the final quarter-of-an-hour at least gives Zola - who appeared to write the game off from the moment he substituted West Ham's most dangerous player, Behrami, on the hour mark - something to think about ahead of next weekend's crunch clash with Bolton.
Although many would have written off tonight's game before the start it is the case that West Ham, still perilously close to the bottom of the table, simply cannot afford to take their foot off the gas in any of their remaining fixtures. If the squad has been lulled into a false sense of security by those two recent well-earned wins it's imperative that they shake it off, and soon, for there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns yet in the final third of the season.
Zola certainly started with the right intentions tonight, playing two up top in Cole and Franco - but with the pair virtually anonymous the pressure was always on with the ball constantly coming back. Former Man Utd defender Spector was up against it from the start and constantly targeted by the home side; it was almost criminal that he was offered virtually no assistance by those ahead of him.
Mark Noble, in for the rested Scott Parker had an indifferent game once again whilst Diamanti and Behrami, probably the liveliest of West Ham's players, failed to make major inroads bar the aforementioned early opportunities, despite giving a good account of themselves.
After a bright opening Radoslav Kovac and Julien Faubert both faded whilst centre backs Tomkins and Upson looked ill-at-ease for much of the game; the latter being responsible for playing Owen onside for the third goal and missing an absolute sitter in the closing stages, firing over the bar from five yards when it was easier to score.
Whilst the Hammers were always going to be up against it, playing as they were one of the best club sides in the world at present, what disappointed most was not the result - ater all, we either win 1-0 at Old Trafford or get well beaten - but the way heads went down after the first goal went in. Rooney's opening strike seemed to sap the will and desire from West Ham and it was that, not the result, that left a slightly sour taste.
Zola's record against the top four since succeeding Alan Curbishley now reads played 14, lost 9, drawn 5, won 0. WIth Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool yet to come this season - all away - West Ham's home form in their remaining fixtures takes on added importance in the battle to avoid relegation.
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Make a couple of decent saves in the first half but looked uncertain for much of the game.
Got forward a fair bit early on but barely crossed the halfway line after the break.
Quite frankly, ripped apart by Valencia. Not helped by a lack of assistance from Diamanti or his replacement, Collison.
Another disappointing performance from the club captain who should have scored late on and was guilty of playing Owen onside for the final goal.
Made a couple of superb last-ditch tackles on Wayne Rooney but questions will be asked with regards to his positioning for the first two goals.
Whatever is wrong with Noble needs to be nipped in the bud, and soon. A poor season is showing no signs of improvement.
A decent effort even if he was overrun at times. The passing still fails to inspire.
Worked his socks off as usual but ultimately left frustrated.
Had a go but again the passing was well below par.
Awful game. Never at the races.
One to forget for the England hopeful who was marked out of the game by the returning Vidic.
(Replaced Franco, 46 mins) Looked unfit and nowhere near breaking his Hammers deadlock.
(Replaced Behrami, 63 mins) Covered a lot of ground to little effect.
(Replaced Diamanti, 75 mins) Featured for the final quarter-of-an-hour, the fact he actually played must be considered a bonus.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Alan Wiley.
Man of the Match: Valon Behrami.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Radoslav Kovac, Valon Behrami, Alessandro Diamanti, Guillermo Franco, Carlton Cole.
Booked: Julien Faubert 76 .
Sent Off: None sent off .
Foster, Evra, Vidic, Neville, Brown, Valencia, Anderson, Gibson, Scholes, Rooney, Berbatov.
Substitutes: Park (Anderson 19), Owen (Rooney 78), Diouf (Berbatov 78).
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Fletcher, Evans, Da Silva.
Goals: Rooney (38, 55), Owen (80).
Sent Off: None.