West Ham throw away two goal lead to crash to Manchester United

Wayne Rooney grabbed a second-half hat-trick to help United come from behind and beat West Ham.

West Ham United 2 Manchester United 4

MARK NOBLE’S penalty double looked have set West Ham United on the way to a valuable victory, before the rampant Red Devils struck back with four second half goals inside 19 mad minutes, writes STEVE BLOWERS.

While the superb Scott Parker and terrific Thomas Hitzlsperger have been grabbing all the plaudits for powering the recent West Ham United revival, it looked all set to be the equally deserving Noble’s day when he fired home two first-half spot-kicks.

But despite holding onto that two-goal advantage until midway through the second period, Wayne Rooney’s quick-fire hat-trick engineered the capitulation of Avram Grant’s unchanged side, who also saw substitute Javier Hernandez net a late goal that now leaves the Israeli languishing in the bottom three, ahead of next week’s tricky trip to Bolton Wanderers.

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The Premier League leaders knew that a win in this lunchtime start would take them eight points clear of second place Arsenal, ahead of the Gunners own evening shoot-out with Blackburn Rovers and, with one eye on Wednesday’s crunch Champions League tie with Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson made five changes from the side that had beaten Bolton two weeks ago.

The fit-again Nemanja Vidic, Tomasz Kuszczak, Darron Gibson, Fabio da Silva and Park Ji-Sung each came in for the suspended Jonny Evans, Edwin Van Der Sar plus substitutes Nani, Wes Brown and Hernandez.

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With just three minutes on the clock, Chris Smalling rose highest to meet Ryan Giggs’ deep corner but Robert Green pawed his header over the bar and, when the Welsh wingman sent over the resultant flag-kick, Chris Smalling nodded well wide.

Fabio’s crunching charge into Wayne Bridge confirmed that United had not forgotten November’s Carling Cup humiliation, when the snowbound Hammers ended their 29-match unbeaten streak with a 4-0 walloping in a winter wonderland at Upton Park.

And on a much sunnier spring day, West Ham wasted no time putting themselves in the driving seat again, when the breaking Carlton Cole raced on to Green’s huge punt upfield and as he attempted to flick the ball over the retreating Patrice Evra, French football’s l’enfant terrible clearly handled,

Cool as you like, Noble made no mistake in claiming his fourth goal of the season, when he drilled the consequent penalty into the bottom left-hand corner as Kuszczak dived in the opposite direction to the delight of the claret and blue fans.

United might have forced seven corners without reply inside the opening 18 minutes but, with towering Manuel Da Costa shining like a beacon in the heart of the Hammers defence, all danger was headed clear by the powerful Portuguese defender.

On 25 minutes, Noble was called forward for spot-kick duties once more, when Vidic tripped Cole as he embarked upon a charge into the United area and, although TV replays suggested that the Serbian’s trip might have been committed a toenail or two outside penalty box, such attention to detail did not matter one iota to any ecstatic East Ender.

This time, the nonchalant Noble held his nerve to change sides and clinically blast the kick beyond Kuszczak’s outstretched left glove and under the angle to double West Ham’s lead,

On the half-hour mark, Park had a brilliant chance to hand his side a lifeline but Green was at his brilliant best to divert the South Korean’s scorching 15-yarder over the angle and send the United corner count into double figures.

Ten minutes before the break, Thomas Hitzlsperger could have put Hammers three-goals in front but he viciously volleyed Gary O’Neil’s inviting cross into the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand from 15 yards.

With Gibson having already been booked for kicking out at Noble, last man Vidic was then curiously only cautioned for hauling back the breaking Demba Ba and Hitzlberger sent the consequent free-kick just an inch or so wide from 20 yards.

Serving a touchline ban, the red-faced Ferguson could not wait to race down the stairs from the Directors Box to the United changing room at the break and, by the time United emerged for the second period, Evra had been replaced by Hernandez.

Within seconds of his arrival, the ‘Little Pea’ scooped over after Giggs – now dropping into left back – sent a dangerous low cross into the Hammers six-yard box.

The alert Green also had to race out to pluck the ball off the studs of Hernandez and after Da Costa was booked for an over-zealous shove on the subdued Rooney, United then increased their firepower with the telling 63rd-minute introduction of Dimitar Berbatov for Park.

The Bulgarian’s arrival coincided with the start of the Red Devils revival for when Noble fouled ex-Hammer Michael Carrick in the edge of the West Ham area, Rooney expertly curled the resulting free-kick over the home wall, beyond the left palm of the groping Green.

And having just awoken from his slumber to bag his tenth goal of the campaign, the England striker took just seven minutes to net his second, when he collected from Antonio Valencia before drilling a low, angled 18-yarder wide of Green to draw United level on 72 minutes.

Still Rooney was not finished and, when the hitherto immaculate Matthew Upson was harshly adjudged to have handled Fabio’s by-line cross with just 12 minutes remaining he claimed the match-ball with a low penalty into the bottom right-hand corner.

With the wind now taken firmly out of the Hammers sails, there was yet more disappointment for the home skipper, when he allowed Giggs’ low cross into the six-yard box to trickle through his legs for the happy Hernandez to bundle home United’s fourth goal inside those devastating 19 second half minutes and send West Ham back into the drop zone.

Hammers: Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Da Costa, Upson, O’Neil (Obinna 82), Parker, Noble (Keane 82), Hitzlsperger, Cole (Piquionne 68), Ba Unused Substitutes: Boffin, Reid, Tomkins, Spector.

Manchester United: Kuszczak, Fabio, Evra (Hernandez 46), Vidic, Smalling, Valencia, Giggs, Gibson, Carrick, Park Ji-Sung (Berbatov 63), Rooney (Nani 87) Unused Substitutes: Amos, Owen, Anderson, Gill.

Referee: Lee Mason

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