West Ham 0-4 Man Utd
Manchester United kept the pressure on at the top of the table with an emphatic 4-0 victory away to West Ham.
An uninspiring contest exploded into life on the stroke of half-time when Paul Scholes crashed a powerful volley past Robert Green from the edge of the area, and United then produced a superb second-half performance.
Darron Gibson then put the Red Devils in total control with a magnificent goal just after the hour mark and there was no way back for the Hammers in the closing stages.
Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney also struck in quick succession, although Sir Alex Ferguson will have been concerned to see both Gary Neville and Wes Brown pick up injuries.
Ferguson had sent out a makeshift defence to start with, after seeing Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans all sidelined through injury. Midfielder Darren Fletcher filled in at right-back with Neville and Brown in the middle.
Yet after half an hour Neville pulled up, clutching the right side of his groin. It brought the biggest cheer of the afternoon from an unsympathetic home crowd, saw an angry remonstration between Neville and his dugout as they pondered a substitution, and led to a reshuffle which saw midfielder Michael Carrick come on to shore up the centre of midfield.
But Carrick and Fletcher played as if they had defended all their lives in a match which was long on midfield industry and short on goalmouth thrills until the visitors took total control in the second half.
Of course, Ferguson, back on the touchline after his two-match ban for criticising referee Alan Wiley, never fields a side not prepared to shed every last drop of sweat in the team cause.
And with Chelsea threatening to open an unbridgeable gap at the top of the Premier League before Christmas, this was a must-win match.
But if Scholes caught the eye with that screamer which goalkeeper Robert Green got his hand to but could only divert into the net, then United owed this victory as much to Ryan Giggs.
It seems as he nears the end of his career his performances are better than ever.
His surge deep at the heart of the West Ham defence on the hour mark was a perfect example, skipping past defenders and releasing his pass perfectly into the stride of Gibson who powered a brilliant strike past goalkeeper Green to extend United's lead.
The strike was as true as that of Scholes. It might even have been better. True, Tomasz Kuszczak had to make a superb save a few minutes later when Alessandro Diamanti curled a free-kick which appeared bound for the top corner.
But after that it was all United. A bright run from Anderson produced a cross which gave Valencia an easy tap-in after 71 minutes.
And more good work from Scholes a minute later sent Valencia away and his pinpoint cross was steered home by Rooney for the fourth.
It was a trifle harsh on West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola, whose philosophy apparently remains attack at all cost. But it was also an example of what being champions really means.
Ferguson even saw Brown limp off at the end, with Giggs finishing the game at left-back and Carrick and Evra in the centre of defence. Some sides might have buckled with so many defensive problems. Adversity, as always, seems to bring out the best in United.
The bottom line is that the victory kept them in touch with Chelsea. For West Ham the relegation fight goes on.
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