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Saturday, 16th March 2002

West Ham United 3
Manchester United 5

by Graeme Howlett

A plucky Hammers side pushed the reigning champions all the way at a packed Upton Park in the midst of a downpour this afternoon, but to no avail thanks to a first class second half performance from Manchester United.

Alex Ferguson's title chasers just proved a bit too good on a day of thrilling end to end football. The purists would have hated it, but for the rest of us it was the sort of game you talk about for ages afterwards - even though the score didn't go the way we had planned it.

There have been one or two drab encounters at Upton Park of late, so the watching public were just about due a game like this. The atmosphere also lived up to the billing, with both sets of fans full of life in an effort to lift their team to greater things.

For the Hammers there was no Trevor Sinclair, a victim - according to official lines - of food poisoning the night before. That gave Steve Lomas the opportunity to make his comeback although in the unusual position of right-midfield, as Cole and Carrick took up the central berths.

For the other United there was no Giggs or Veron, both rested after a busy week. In their place came Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, not bad replacements by any means.

It's never a dull game when Manchester United visit the Boleyn; who can forget last season's last minute comeback by the Hammers to snatch a point (courtesy of Davor Suker, remember him?), or the Dicks penalty; Kenny Brown's goal, Ludo's heroics ... the list goes on and on. Today was to be yet another to rank up there with the best of them.

The early exchanges promised much for Roeder's men (none more so when Gary Neville was lucky to get away with a handball inside the box in the fourth minute), and the Hammers couldn't have asked for a better start; Steve Lomas, filling in ably in place of the missing Sinclair nodded a Vladimir Labant cross home in the seventh minute to raise hopes of a first league double over Man Utd in 27 years.

The finish was good, but the build up was exquisite; the Reds were left standing by a succession of quick and incisive passes by the Hammers on the left touchline before Labant supplied the cross for Lomas.

However the visitors replied in emphatic fashion just 9 minutes later; the fired-up David Beckham applied a top quality finish to lob David James after he was set through by Paul Scholes, who capitalised on a Joe Cole error in the centre of midfield. With Labant and Winterburn at the other end of the pitch it was a worrying portent to the carnage which lay ahead.

But the Hammers were undeterred, and with the noisy Boleyn crowd behind them they regained the lead on 19 minutes. Freddie Kanoute, who had an excellent game, finished beautifully from a low Seb Schemmel cross to restore the Hammers advantage. Up went the cries of 'you're not singing anymore' - but they were to be shortlived.

Again the visitors clawed their way back, with a second equaliser from a free kick - following a questionable decision by the referee to order a retake on the original cross, which came to nothing - just 2 minutes later. Beckham's set piece led to an easy chance for an unmarked Nicky Butt on the edge of the six yard box. More bad defending costing us dear.

With the game level 2-2 at the break, Manchester United stepped up another gear to put themselves firmly back in the driving seat scoring twice more through Scholes (54 minutes, easy tap in after an error by Repka allowed Solskjaer to centre the ball) and Solskjaer (63 minutes, more disarray in the Hammers backline), before Jermain Defoe gave the Hammers a glimmer of hope with another wonderful goal 13 minutes from time, just 4 minutes after he entered the fray (too little, too late perhaps Glenn?).

The crowd sensed the restlessness in the Man Uted ranks, and got fully behind the Hammers as they sought a dramatic, late equaliser. On another day they may well have got it with a penalty, but somehow Blanc's(?) clear tug on Kanoute's shirt was missed by referee Halsey. Fair to say he wasn't the most popular man in East London this afternoon.

But a late penalty, following a reckless challenge by Tomas Repka on Paul Scholes. gave David Beckham the opportunity to put the game beyond the Hammers in the final minute, making the final score 5-3 to the visitors.

In all the Hammers probably played Man Utd at the wrong time of the season; Ferguson's men were at their very best this afternoon, chasing as they are every point in a bid to reclaim their title.

But the Hammers, missing 15m of talent from the midfield in the shape of Don Hutchison and Trevor Sinclair gave their very best, and a repeat of this kind of effort should prove far more fruitful against lesser teams than Manchester United.

Despite the defeat the Hammers retained their top ten standing, thanks to the three teams immediately below us in the table also failing to win today.

Player ratings

David James (6) Despite having five put past him, only once could James be attributed any kind of blame - that being when he allowed the ball to squirm loose follow the melee which led to Man Utd's fourth goal. And apart from one flap at a cross which eventually came to nothing, there were no question marks on the big man. Shame the same couldn't be said for his defence ...

Nigel Winterburn (5) Poor Nige had a torrid time this afternoon against Scholes and Silvestre on the left side. Notably caught flat footed and out of position for Beckham's first, the old legs looked tired this afternoon - as they have done once or twice this season against top quality opposition. Glenn Roeder probably saved Nige from further embarrassment by replacing him with Jermain Defoe late on.

Seb Schemmel (6) Excellent in supporting the attackers, but exposed in defence probably sums up Seb's performance today. The pass to Kanoute for the second goal was the highlight of his efforts (or was it meant to be a shot?). Whatever, Archie's first half performance was excellent, but he faded badly - as did most of his fellow team mates - after the break.

Tomas Repka (5) Against any other side but Manchester United Repka would have probably got away with the errors which cost us so dear today. Solely at fault for two of the five goals conceded, and arguably with a hand in two more it was schoolboy errors like Tommy's today that cost us the game. The way he allowed Solskjaer to turn him on the byline to set up the fourth goal was bad judgement at best, but the reckless challenge on Paul Scholes which allowed Man Utd to score a fifth late on was plain lunacy. Shame, because apart from those basic errors he had a fair game.

Christian Dailly (6) Questions will be asked of Dailly's (and Repka's) marking at set pieces today. But the big Scot's most notable contribution was the fashion in which he shackled Man Utd's leading goalscorer van Nistelrooy; the flying Dutchman, already with 32 goals to his name this season was restricted to just one shot all afternoon. Onwards, Christian soldiers ...

Vladimir Labant (6) Slowly but surely the confidence appears to be coming to Labant, and how that golden left foot is proving to be worth every penny of the million pounds Glenn Roeder invested in it. When he gets the ball on his left stick around the box the crowd's expectation is raised, much how it must be at Old Trafford when David Beckham is in a similar situation. Okay, maybe that's a little gushing, but there's an element of reason in there somewhere. Examples today were the pinpoint cross which led to Steve Lomas' goal, and the thundering shot which followed shortly after from a well worked set piece. And it must be remembered that he's been playing out of position for much of his time here, so far.

Steve Lomas (8) Steve's first goal in sixteen months - and probably his best performance in that time too. What a goal it was, a superbly guided header from the edge of the box following a simply wonderful move on the left flank which involved four other team mates. As always he offered 100% commitment, and there was the added extra of playing against the old foe (remembering his early years spent with Man City). Maybe we would have been better off with Sinclair, but Lomas filled the void ably.

Michael Carrick (6) Michael told on Saturday morning how much he was relishing his return to action, despite admitting he was not fully fit. That showed - as expected - but nevertheless it was a fair performance from the 21-year-old in the heart of the Hammers midfield. Once or twice though he appeared to be pulling challenges, but that was perhaps to be expected too. Lots of work to do though in order to convince Eriksson he's ready for the World Cup.

Joe Cole (6) It was a far more workmanlike performance from Joey today; pushed deeper than he would probably like he was restricted to just one or two notable forays into the opposition territory. Up against the best in Roy Keane, Cole just about came out of this one level on points - but then Keane had a point to prove following the way he was ripped apart by Cole at Old Trafford in the corresponding fixture last December.

Paolo Di Canio (6) This game was billed as the chance for Paolo to show the Mancunians exactly what they had missed out on. He started brightly enough, having a hand in the opening goal, but faded badly - notably in the second half. Roeder had asked him to play wide on the left (apparently) and it was no surprise when he was shifted into midfield upon Defoe's arrival. It's been a while since we saw a devastating performance from Di Canio, which is causing some concern for many present at the Boleyn today.

Frederic Kanoute (9) Just about the best performance we've seen from the temperamental Frenchman so far this season. Kanoute was on top form today, and showed just what he is capable of by scoring one and working another for Jermain Defoe. The run he made for the latter was particularly impressive, losing his marker in the channel before holding off then delivering the perfect cross for Defoe. Worked diligently throughout, and must have his manager tearing his hear out in frustration wondering why Freddie can't put in this much effort every week. A worthy man of the match.

Jermain Defoe (7) If there were those that harboured doubts about Defoe's potential previously, one incident in today's game was enough to prove just what a phenomenal prospect the Hammers have on their hands here. I'm of course referring to his goal - scored after being on the pitch for only four minutes - but inparticular to the run he made to make it. If you get the chance to see it again just look how much ground he covers to reach the box - and how cleverly he crosses in front of the defender - at the last minute - to meet Kanoute's cross. The legendary Ron Greenwood, who used this near post tactic to great effect with Geoff Hurst back in the day would have been proud of Jem today.

KUMB Stats

West Ham United: James, Schemmel, Winterburn, Repka, Dailly, Labant, Lomas, Carrick, Cole, Di Canio, Kanoute,

Subs: Defoe (Winterburn 73), Hislop, Moncur, Pearce, Garcia

Manchester United: Barthez, Neville.G, Silvestre, Blanc, Johnsen, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Butt, van Nistelrooy, Solskjaer

Subs: Forlan (Solskjaer 84), Fortune (van Nistelroy 86), Carroll, Irwin, Neville.P

Goals: Lomas (7), Beckham (16, 89 pen), Kanoute (19), Butt (21), Scholes (54), Solskjaer (63), Defoe (77)

Booked: Neville.G (26), Schemmel (42), Repka (71), Solskjaer (81)

Attendance: 35,281

Referee: Mark Halsey (5)

Man of the match: Freddie Kanoute

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