Sunday, April 03, 2011

Rooney and Vidic walk the line as United deliver Hammer blow to title rivals...

Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone connected with Manchester United will have enjoyed Saturday night following an eventful day in the Premier League with results going the league leader's way. Chelsea only managed a draw at Stoke and Arsenal dropped two valuable points at home to Blackburn.

Earlier in the day United made life difficult for themselves when going two-nil down inside the opening 25 minutes after conceding two penalties against West Ham. There was no doubt about the award of the first penalty - a clear handball by Evra. United's defence was unusually slipshod, despite the fact that Vidic returned alongside the rapidly improving Smalling. The irony was that United were very much on top and yet the defence looked unusually vunerable to the counter-attack.

Then in the 25th minute, referee Lee Mason took it upon himself to re-write the rulebook when deciding Vidic's trip on Carlton Cole was inside the box, when in point of fact the challenge was clearly on the line. It was a poor decision and those in favour of video replays were given more ammunition, because any TV review would clearly have resulted in a free-kick outside the box. Former Arsenal striker and Sky sports summariser Alan Smith commented "Vidic can have no complaints", in point of fact, the Serbian had every right to complain.

Mark Noble converted his second spot-kick; onlooking United fans won't have expected any other outcome with stand-in Kuszczak in goal. United's third-choice stopper did not inspire confidence in the absence of Van der Sar who we are told was "injured".

At the point in the contest, supporters of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City will have been praying that West Ham held on and truth be told despite their dominance United created precious little by way of clear cut chances. Park was the only United player to test Robert Green inside the opening 30 minutes; the South Korean should have scored on his return to action following a lengthy injury lay-off, but his effort was blasted straight at the former Norwich and England 'keeper.

Despite being two goals to the good, West Ham had the look of a team destined for relegation. A more confident team could have gone on and perhaps taken advantage of United's wobbly back-four, but that didn't happen and you always felt that if the visitors could score one goal they just might have a chance.

At half-time and in a bid to make the breakthrough, Ferguson did what he should have done at the outset - that is he sent on Hernandez when replacing Evra who had a day to forget. Giggs dropped back to left-back in what turned out to be a game changing tactical shuffle.

The fact is though and not for the first time this season, the United manager was guilty of getting his team selection completely wrong. Ferguson made the same mistake at Blackpool and as a direct result United went two-nil down, but fought back to win.

There are times to be cautious and there are times when you have to attack; United should have taken the game to West Ham with two genuine strikers, but somewhat bizarrely Ferguson opted for caution when starting with a five-man midfield. As a result, United lacked punch up front and the goal threat simply wasn't there in that opening period. Valencia was seeing plenty of the ball, but he needed that second striker in the box.

Vidic could have been sent-off for a challenge on Ba just outside the United penalty area just minutes after the restart, but Mason made the correct decision with the award of a free-kick to West Ham.

The pattern of the second-half was just like the first - United were on top, but they couldn't make that vital breakthrough.

After starting with caution and going on to pay the price, Ferguson then threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Hammers when sending on Berbatov for Park. Berbatov brought an added touch of class with his silky skills and he personified coolness under pressure and made it look easy.

Then in then 65th minute, Michael Carrick was brought down outside the West Ham penalty area. United had wasted several free-kicks and Giggs had not inspired with his all too often wayward corners. As Giggs and Rooney stood over the ball, United fans looked on in hope rather than with any real sense of expectation, because the club doesn't have a dead-ball specialist. But on this rare occasion, Rooney delivered and then some with a quite brilliant effort which gave Green no chance. Game on.

Eight minutes later Rooney levelled with another quite brilliant goal thanks to an assist by Valencia. Rooney controlled the ball with his magnificent first touch on the edge of the West Ham box, and at the same time he'd pushed the ball into a shooting position and with his second touch he blasted beyond Green and into the corner of the rigging. Only the very best strikers are capable of scoring such quality goals and against the Hammers Rooney was just that. Ironically, Rooney didn't have a great allround game, because on too many occasions his passing wasn't as good as it could have been.

With United on level terms and with 20 minutes still on the clock there was only going to be one winner and it wasn't the East London club.

Fabio, who is wasted at fullback, once again proved his worth in attacking role when he burst into the West Ham box and pulled ball back from the goal-line only for Upson to catch ball with his arm. It was a tough decision, but Mason awarded the spot-kick - which in part, made up for his earlier mistake on the penalty award against Vidic.

Rooney cooly converted for his hat-trick when sending Green the wrong way, but he is mired in yet more controversy after scoring following his foul-mouthed goal celebration into a TV camera.

Berbatov laid on what should have been another goal for United with a great pull-back to Darron Gibson on the edge of the Hammers penalty area, but the Irishman blazed over embarrassingly and at that point you wondered if the visitors would live to regret what was a howling miss.

However, Hernandez relieved any remaining tension and saved Gibson's blushes when he secured the points with a typical Chicharito poachers goal thanks to an assist by Ryan Giggs.

United ran out 4-2 winners and in the end it was great entertainment, but it was once again a case of doing it the hard way. Bring on Chelsea.

Man of the match: Rooney.

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