Unlucky West Ham lose out to first minute goal at Manchester United
Manchester United 1 West Ham United 0
The Hammers put in a battling performance, but came up just short against Premier League leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford
Forget the Theatre of Dreams, it looked like being a nightmare East End evening, when flying Dutchman Robin Van Persie clogged West Ham United with a first-minute opener that took his tally for the season to a deadly dozen.
But the Hammers went on to carve out some great chances of their own and with a little more luck in front of goal they could even have left Old Trafford with an unlikely point.
Following his eighth-placed team’s 1-3 reverse at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, Sam Allardyce had made a quartet of changes as Guy Demel, James Collins, Matt Taylor and Matt Jarvis each came in for the injured George McCartney, a suspended Mark Noble and substitutes Modibo Maiga and Gary O’Neil, while youngster Sebastian Lletget also joined them for a first appearance on the bench.
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Before this encounter with the Old Trafford table-toppers, Big Sam had warned that the Premier League pace-setters simply could not stop scoring goals.
And with just 33 seconds on the clock, Allardyce sadly saw that at first hand as recalled former Upton Park midfielder Michael Carrick unzipped his old team-mates with a defence-splitting pass that Van Persie cleverly controlled, before letting fly with an 18-yarder that looped skywards off the outstretched boot of James Collins into the chill Manchester air and over the stranded Jussi Jaaskelainen.
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Just four days earlier, another East End manager - ex-Hammers boss Harry Redknapp - had sat in the Old Trafford stands and seen uncompromising United come from behind to beat his newly-inherited Queens Park Rangers side and following that 3-1 win, Sir Alex Ferguson had made five changes as Carrick, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Javier Hernandez and Anderson each returned to the Old Trafford fold.
After conceding that horrible opener and then seeing Kevin Nolan booked for clattering Cleverley, it looked like being a long, cold, desolate evening for the visitors.
But they quickly regained their composure to show their hosts that they were not going to lay down lightly and, on 11 minutes, Nolan unluckily back-heeled Taylor’s cheeky low free-kick into the side-netting before Anders Lindegaard then punched an awkward cross off Andy Carroll’s head.
Panicking Patrice Evra also cleared over his own bar, while another Taylor cross into the six-yard box was gathered by the United ‘keeper as the stretching Nolan desperately tried to get a toe to the ball and then Carroll met a weak headed clearance with a blistering volley that was just a coat of paint too high.
Certainly, United were not having it all their own way but the Red danger was still there for all to see as Hernandez let fly with a low 20-yarder that the alert Jaaskelainen clawed aside for a corner to keep the deficit to just that Van Persie strike at the interval.
Just after the restart, Mohamed Diame embarked on a trademark trundle deep into Red territory, where his shot was deflected wide for the first of a couple of early Hammers corners.
At the other end, Cleverley lashed one over from the edge of the area before striking another effort into the back of James Tomkins, while Wayne Rooney and Carrick were both way off target from range.
As the hour mark approached, though, Rooney nonchalantly tried to curl an 18-yarder inside Jaaskelainen’s left-hand post but the flying Finn finger-tipped the ball aside and from the consequent corner, Nolan hacked off the line as Johnny Evans slid in for the kill.
The fresh legs of Carlton Cole replaced Carroll and Maiga then came on for Jarvis, while Ashley Young was switched for Cleverly as a frustrated Sir Alex desperately looked to put the game to bed.
Indeed, Anderson almost doubled lead with an awkward low 18-yarder but the scampering Jaaskelainen saved with his knees and then Demel brilliantly thwarted Van Persie after Rooney danced his way into the heart of the West Ham defence.
With one-eye on Saturday lunchtime’s equally daunting encounter with Chelsea, Diame retired in place of O’Neil for the final quarter-of-an-hour and the new arrival soon saw Carrick booked for felling him.
The United fans may well have been urging their team to ‘Attack, Attack, Attack’ but their players just were not listening and it was a mark of how well West Ham were defending when the subdued Rooney was replaced by Danny Welbeck for the final 12 minutes.
With four minutes remaining Maiga skilfully turned and curled inches over from 18 yards but it was just not to be on a night when plucky West Ham United paid dearly for that first-minute lapse.
Red Devils: Lindegaard, Rafael, Evra, Evans, Smalling, Cleverley (Young 65), Anderson (Jones 84), Carrick, Rooney (Welbeck 78), Hernandez, Van Persie. Unused subs: De Gea, Ferdinand, Fletcher, Buttner
Hammers: Jaaskelainen, Demel, O’Brien, Reid, Collins, Tomkins, Diame (O’Neil 75), Nolan, Jarvis (Maiga 70), Taylor, Carroll (Cole 62) Unused subs: Spiegel, Spence, Lletget, Moncur.
Bookings: Nolan (7), Carrick (78).
Referee: Mike Jones