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Saturday, 8th December 2001

Manchester United 0
West Ham United 1

by Liam Tyrell

This was my 13th visit to Old Trafford for this fixture. I really feared facing a Fergie backlash in view of their recent defeats. I thought Harry Redknapp was spot on when he reckoned on a United win , because the Reds simply had to win.

An unlucky 13th trip seemed even more likely as they were sure to try and avenge last seasons shock FA Cup exit. The mass coverage of the Champions crumbling empire has focused on why they are faltering. My own personal view is that Ferguson is lost without a Kidd or a McClaren at his side.

Enough of their problems; our task was to try and exploit any weaknesses and Glenn Roeder set about the task by shuffling
around the midfield. Sincs occupied the same left flank at the ground where he made his England debut, Hutch was switched to the right with Joe Cole given a central role to link up with his youth team partner Carrick.

Sir Alex, meanwhile, opted to rest world superstars Van Nistelrooy and Veron with Beckam left on the bench. If this was because they were 'only playing West Ham' then what better pre-match message could Roeder have given.

It certainly looked as if the Hammers were fired up as they more than matched the Reds in the first half. Indeed Ferguson admitted that we dictated the pace of the game with our crisp, neat passing backed up with some solid defending as a team. Goldie locks David James marshalled his defence well making several vital saves too.

We mainly restricted them to long range attempts, whilst going close ourselves , most notably from Hutchison's swift drive which Barthez pushed wide.

The Hammers faithful were in good voice, eager to remind the Old Trafford crowd of last seasons triumph with renditions of,
' Let's all do the Barthez'. 'Barthez give us a wave'. '1-0 to the Cockney boys' and of course 'Paulo Di Canio'.

It wasn't until 5 minutes before the interval that Man United stepped up a gear and gave us a taste of what to expect in the second period.

Things were going well and we were helped by a very fair refereeing display from Paul Durkin. He stood firm and dished out 5 home bookings to our three. Whilst Fergie may moan about the possible penalty appeals, of which the 'Hutch handball' looked to me the only debatable one, he should think himself lucky. Keane getting away with a late lunge on Defoe, followed by a forearm smash into Joe Cole 's face in their box, then a punch that felled Repka. All whilst he was on a yellow, the red mist had descended.

Beckham came on after 59 minutes and made an instant impact; his free kick almost resulted in a goal.

But 5 minutes later a neat Hammers move from our own half involving seven passes ended with glory for young Jermain Defoe. When Cole released Schemmel on the right I was screaming for a deep cross to Sincs and Defoe. Seb knew better and slipped it to Di Canio just inside the box. Paulo twisted the way only he can before chipping to the far post where Defoe beat Sincs and rose salmon like over Phil Neville to head narrowly past Barthez at his near post.

1-0 to the Cockney boys, does lightning really strike twice, or was I dreaming in the Theatre of Dreams?

Could we hang on? Well they threw the lot at us. The defence stood firm and James was not to be beaten. From the start of the half Di Canio had been pushed fiurther forward, a bold move but our midfield was not so tight with one less body. We were defending far too deep as well but still found space as the game opened up. Camara replaced Defoe when Di Canio who was beginning to lose it seemed the more logical substitution.

However we managed to hold out as we rubbed it in sensing another famous victory with 'can we play you every week?'. ' going down' and 'you're gonna win f*** all'.

So after 11 successive defeats at Old Trafford we had managed our second win in a year, our first league victory on this soil since 1986. That day Frank MacAvennie scored twice, it looks like we now have a new strike hero on our hands in Jermain Defoe.

As soon as we left the stadium we were greeted by the first of several sad Mancs looking for a fight. He wanted to know where our open topped bus was, I told him that the Mighty Reds wouldn't be needing one this year. Like his team he'd lost the plot. I managed to avoid his lunge and eventually the local plod pulled him to one side after they were convinced to try and do their job.

To win twice at Old Trafford in a year is something special. It does also make up a little for the points lost that we deserved at Charlton and Sunderland as well as the Villa game. Surely this win will give the side the belief required to climb into the top half of the table.

Player Ratings:

David James (9) First clean sheet ever at Old Trafford. The Golden Boy was very impressive. Organised his defence, pulled off some superb saves and plenty of strong punches clear when most needed. Japan beckons for England's potential No 1. Man of the match.

Seb Schemmel (7) Involved in the build up for the goal, showed great awareness to find Paulo instead of the obvious cross. Worked well.

Christian Dailly (7) Perhaps the best thing to say is that he was rarely noticed, thus no cock ups. Tidied up well.

Tomas Repka (8) Excellent. His cool awareness stood out at the back.

Nigel Winterburn (7) Used all his vast experience to pace himself through the game, rarely in trouble, very cool.

Don Hutchison (7) Did a good job out on the right, kept an eye on Silvestre, nice and tidy performance.

Michael Carrick (7) Didn't give up the battle against Keane and Butt, always found time and space to try and find a collegue.

Joe Cole (7) Looked more at home in the middle, got stuck in and his runs helped ease the pressure at times.

Trevor Sinclair (7) Worked up and down the line all day. Doesn't look quite right on the left but it somehow worked.

Paolo Di Canio (7) In the first half he was a vital link up between midfield and detecting Defoe's runs. Pushed further up in the second, the movement and precision finding of Defoe for the goal summed up his value to the team. Lost his head a little in the final stages as one or two decisions went against us.

Jermain Defoe (8) What can you say, he has no fear. Full of running and not afraid to mix it with Keane and co. Defenders cannot relish his constant presence the way he buzzes about. We've already seen some sweetly struck goals and now an incredible header on one of the highest stages. What can't he do ,
how about make Japan?

Sub:

Titi Camara (-) Okay, it was a difficult arena to enter at a tense time. To look so out of shape and out of place does make you wonder what can he possibly offer us. He failed to do his job and hold the ball up at all. Waste of space.

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