Cristiano Ronaldo News

Monday, December 18, 2006

West Ham 1 United 0

17/12/2006 17:50, Report by Ben Hibbs

Sir Alex Ferguson told Alan Curbishley to “go for it” when asked whether he should take the vacant West Ham manager’s position. After Nigel Reo-Coker got a second half winner during the former Charlton manager's first match in charge at Upton Park, the Reds boss will have been all too aware of the irony of his friendly advice.

After Chelsea fought out a 3-2 victory at Goodison Park – twice coming from behind – the gap is now down to just two points, when, due to the quirks of the fixture list, it had stood at an commanding nine points just a week ago.

If attemps on goal were of any merit, United would have walked this match. But a combination of fine goalkeeping, resolute defending and opportunism handed West Ham all three points.

As expected, it was a feisty start, West Ham’s fans fired up under as Curbishley brought renewed hope about the club’s future, while the Reds, who started brightly, sought to silence the Hammers’ renewed enthusiasm.

After barely a minute, United worked an opening for Wayne Rooney, but his shot sailed over the bar. But the remaining 89 minutes would offer similar such frustration.

Willed on by a vociferous home crowd, West Ham set about making it difficult for the Reds to settle into any kind of rhythm. Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, the pace-setters of United’s play, were given very little space to work in, while Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Gabriel Heinze were all forced into early brave clearances.

The Hammers looked dangerous when they attacked, Marlon Harewood sending a powerful strike just over the bar on 17 minutes, although Edwin van der Sar appeared to have it covered.

United’s attacking verve is difficult to contain. Two minutes later, Louis Saha spliced open West Ham’s defence with a jinking, twisting run and a low, left-footed shot which forced a fine save out of Robert Green.

However, just after the half hour mark, Curbishley should have seen his new team take the lead. Bobby Zamora out-muscled Ferdinand in the race to reach a long ball forward. But, van der Sar guessed right as Zamora looked to place his shot and the Dutchman pulled off a sensational last-ditch stop.

At the other end, Rooney was unlucky as he sent a header spinning wide on 38 minutes, while Saha had two more low shots, both on his right foot, saved by Green.

After the break Ronaldo had United’s first chance, an ambitious free-kick from 35 yards out. Green fumbled the shot but managed to smother the ball, beating the advancing Rooney to the rebound.

The Reds’ momentum was building. On 56 minutes Ronaldo forced another save out of Green – the best of a series of stops made by the former Norwich keeper. Cutting inside, the 21-year-old winger struck a shot destined for the far corner of the net, but Green somehow turned the Portuguese international’s effort round the post. It was a pivotal moment.

Before the match, Sir Alex had warned his players against profligacy in front of goal, but when Ronaldo pulled back a cross on the hour mark and Giggs blazed his shot over the bar from 12 yards, the United manager’s words appeared pertinently prophetic.

Credit to West Ham, their resilient and organised midfield, stout defending and impressive goalkeeping kept United out.

Realising the need to add something to the Reds’ attack, Sir Alex replaced Ryan Giggs with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with just over fifteen minutes remaining. It meant that both of United’s goalscorers in the Champions League final in 1999 were on the pitch, but it was Teddy Sheringham, a substitute for the Hammers, who made the telling difference to the scoreline and the match.

The 40-year-old forward’s clever nutmeg on Gaby Heinze found Harewood inside the area. He staved off Ferdinand’s challenge, turned and centred the ball for the unmarked Nigel Reo-Coker to burst into the six-yard box. He dutifully applied the finish.

At the time of the West Ham skipper’s strike, United had recorded 17 attempts on goal compared to the home team’s seven. But the phrase ‘not United’s day’ appeared etched in the script.

West Ham survived a frantic four minutes of injury time as the Reds flooded the home side’s penalty area. But there was no path through.

United are still top despite this defeat; a two-point buffer separates the Reds and Chelsea. But this Sunday could have been so different. Jose Mourinho’s side were fortunate at Goodison Park after twice coming from behind to defeat Everton. United meanwhile, couldn't have faced West Ham at a worse time, rejuvenated following the arrival of Curbishley.

Luck or not, this weekend's development leaves the top of the table just about as tight as it could be be going into the Christmas a New Year period.

Team Line-ups

United: Van der Sar; Neville (c), Ferdinand, Vidic, Heinze (Park, 88); Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick (O'Shea, 84), Giggs (Solskjaer, 73); Rooney, Saha.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Silvestre.

West Ham: Green; Spector, A.Ferdinand, Collins, Konchesky; Bowyer, Reo-coker, Mullins (Benayoun, 69), Etherington (McCartney, 78); Harewood, Zamora (Sheringham, 58).
Subs not used: Carroll, Tevez. Posted by Picasa


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