Giggs glory goal ends Hammers’ resistance

West Ham Utd 0 Manchester Utd 1 ALL THE best sides contrive to win when they are not playing very well. Aston Villa managed that at Upton Park back in December and Manchester United matched them on Sunday without ever hitting anything like top gear, write

West Ham Utd 0 Manchester Utd 1

ALL THE best sides contrive to win when they are not playing very well. Aston Villa managed that at Upton Park back in December and Manchester United matched them on Sunday without ever hitting anything like top gear, writes DAVE EVANS.

West Ham gave it their all, had much more possession than they had mustered at Arsenal last week, but in the end they did not quite possess the cutting edge, or give Carlton Cole the support he needed to really hurt the most miserly defence in the Premier League.

"They are so strong, and you don't expect a team like that to be so strong defensively," exclaimed West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola after the match. "You expect them to be so good coming forward, but to be honest Sir Alex has done a great job, as always, and they look very, very strong."

They were strong, but the Hammers certainly tested their resolve, especially in the first half where Scott Parker was superb in midfield as David Di Michele and Cole darted around the penalty area looking for opportunities.

Lucas Neill had tested the seemingly unbeatable Edwin Van der Sar in the 12th minute when Mark Noble's corner was cleared to the skipper on the edge of the box, but the Dutchman was equal to his shot.

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Perhaps the best chance West Ham mustered in the whole game came just a minute later. Di Michele's pass put Cole away and he outmuscled Rio Ferdinand to get into the box, only to try an audacious chip instead of blasting goalwards and Van der Sar stretched high to grab it.

Slowly though, Manchester United were beginning to force their way into the game, though both Dimitar Berbatov, who spent much of the game sitting on his backside, and Carlos Tevez, who received a superb reception from the crowd, hardly got a look in against James Collins and Matty Upson, playing at the top of their games.

One Upson tackle on Ryan Giggs while the defender was on the ground was absolutely superb and illustrated why he is one of the top defenders in the Premier League.

In fact, it was the four centre halves on show in this match that proved the stars, though Ferdinand and especially Nemanja Vidic will be glad they do not have to face the power and strength of Cole every week.

Cristiano Ronaldo headed a Giggs corner inches wide and the winger also deflected a Paul Scholes shot goalwards for Robert Green to tip over, as the visitors looked for a first-half lead, but with West Ham's diamond midfield holding their own, the Hammers would have been happy at the break.

It was West Ham who started the second half the livelier. Valon Behrami had a shot deflected for a corner, while Neill then combined with Di Michele before the full back blasted another shot at goal which the goalkeeper grabbed.

Jack Collison teed up Parker for an effort that was always going wide and then disaster struck as Manchester Un-ited grabbed the opening goal.

Noble lost possession in midfield and when the ball was swung out to the left where Giggs stood unmarked, Cole sprinted over recklessly and was easily sidestepped, before the United winger cut into the penalty area past Parker and drilled a right foot shot through a crowd of players and into the far corner.

"They won it in a very professional way, they punished the only mistake we made," said Zola in admiration.

"You can see that our goalkeeper didn't have to make any other saves - maybe one - so I am very complimentary to them, because when you can win games like this one, then you are very strong."

West Ham tried to launch a fresh offensive, but too often it became slow and laboured in the final third of the field and they were restricted to hopeful long shots that were never likely to test Van der Sar.

Cole's holding up of the ball was excellent throughout, but far too often Di Michele was too deep and detatched from him to take advantage, while the midfield rarely had the chance to venture forward, as they tried to contain United going the other way.

Cole blasted one shot just wide, Neill fired miles over while Collison's effort right at the end was again the wrong side of the post.

At the other end, the preening, prancing Ronaldo had a shout for a penalty, but generally just whinged and whined his way through the game and should have been booked - though the West Ham chants at him did go the wrong side of tasteful.

"I think for me it has been a positive match," said Zola. "Forget about the result, I know that we lost, but when I watch a match I don't only see the result I also make other considerations.

"Today we were playing against the best team in Europe right now, if not in the world, and we just lost by one goal in a very, very tight match, so I am happy for the team.

"I think it has been another step forward for us, despite losing."

West Ham have now played big guns Arsenal and Manchester United in successive weeks and though they have only earned one point for their troubles, they have shown there is the potential to compete with teams like this.

They must now show the confidence to attack the top four teams, take a chance and get more people into the box and put teams like the ones they have played in the last two weeks, out of their stride.

That may be a little way off however, but the ability to win when you are not playing well is a trick that Zola will be looking to master sooner rather than later and if they can learn that, then they will have taken another crucial step up the ladder.

West Ham: Green, Neill, Ilunga, Collins, Upson, Behrami (Tristan 87), Noble (Savio 77), Parker, Collison, Di Michele, Cole. Unused subs: Lastuvka, Boa Morte, Kovac, Spector, Sears. Attendance: 34,958. Referee: Phil Dowd.