Totally outclassed as Reds stroll to victory

West Ham Utd 0 Manchester Utd 4 THERE WAS a time when Sir Alex Ferguson used to hate bringing his team to Upton Park. He once complained that the hosts tried too hard to beat them, but that is not something he would be able to level against the Hammers af

West Ham Utd 0

Manchester Utd 4

THERE WAS a time when Sir Alex Ferguson used to hate bringing his team to Upton Park. He once complained that the hosts tried too hard to beat them, but that is not something he would be able to level against the Hammers after this encounter, writes DAVE EVANS.

The difference between these two teams was a vast chasm. The champions had to do without Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, John O'Shea and Johnny Evans, and left Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Michael Owen on the bench.

West Ham were missing Matty Upson and Carlton Cole and found themselves totally outclassed.

The Hammers will probably never get a better chance to get a result against United, but in truth, they never looked like managing it from the moment the visitors snatched the lead.

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"I think the first goal was the one that changed the story of the game really," said West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola. "We were defending quite well. We worked hard all week to defend against them and it was working, we just needed one more minute."

Perhaps it is in that outlook that the problems derived for Zola's team. A glance at the United back four with Wes Brown partnering Gary Neville in the centre and Darren Fletcher playing right back, might have suggested that the plan should be to throw everything at Alex Ferguson's makeshift defence.

It might have gleaned the same result, but at least they would have given it a real go. But instead, it seemed that West Ham lined up to defend as if they were star struck in front of their illustrious opponents and the best they could hope for was a draw.

"We tried, but the game plan was to wait for them," admitted the manager.

"They were playing with five midfielders, three in the middle and two wingers, so I knew they were expecting us to go and play on the counter attack.

"What we wanted was for them to come to us and us to do the same to them. It was working quite well, but their goal changed everything."

It did, and it was a goal that was oh so avoidable. Three times West Ham had a chance to clear the ball properly, but each time it was gifted back to a United player. When Danny Gabbidon finally headed to the edge of the box, Paul Scholes was there to muscle his way past the pedestrian Radoslav Kovac and fire into the top corner, via the hand of Robert Green.

It could all have been so different had West Ham taken their best chance of the first half after 10 minutes. Zavon Hines worked himself a little space on the left side of the box, and when he drilled the ball across, it looked destined for a Jack Collison tap-in, until Ryan Giggs got back to block the chance.

Guillermo Franco looked impressive once again, while Hines ran gamely, but without Cole there was nobody to work the fragile United defence, a back-line made even more flimsy when Neville limped off to be replaced by Carrick after just 34 minutes.

Added to that, captain Scott Parker, the star of last week's victory over Burnley, was largely anonymous and that took the control of the game away from the home side.

West Ham did at least compete in the first half, restricting United to long shots, while Green did make one good save at the feet of Wayne Rooney.

Alessandro Diamanti replaced the injured Zavon Hines at the break and immediately gave West Ham the spark they needed - something a bolder manager may have introduced at the start of the match to really shake up the champs.

Franco carved out a great chance for Junior Stanislas on 46 minutes, only for the winger to strangely hesitate at the vital moment and allow Tomasz Kuszczak to grab it, while Diamanti then set up Franco for a chance that never quite fell right for him.

Diamanti ridiculously blasted a free kick miles over from some 45 yards, but then showed what he is capable of by arrowing another on to the head of James Tomkins whose effort was saved, and then forcing Kuszcsak to palm over another excellent effort.

By then, however, the game was all over bar the shouting as Manchester United had scored a second. Giggs stormed forward, Gabbidon decided to back off, and when he teed up Darron Gibson, the youngster drilled a shot into the corner.

"The second goal was a fantastic strike and after that obviously we tried to chase the game and they took advantage of us," said Zola.

They certainly did with two goals in a minute that had a striking resemblance to two of the three that Burnley mustered last week.

First Rooney fed Anderson on the left and his low cross was touched in by Antonio Valencia at close range. Then a minute later, Valencia got down the right, crossed low and Rooney had an even easier chance to make it 4-0.

Green, who had vomited into the goalmouth at one stage of the second half, was naturally sick of the sight of United goals going in, and was replaced by youngster Peter Kurucz.

The West Ham fans feared the worst, but by then United had obviously filled their quota of goals and were happy to play out the last 17 minutes in strolling mode.

It did give West Ham a couple of chances for a consolation, but even that was to elude them on this desperate day.

First Herita Ilunga found Franco in the box, who slipped it for Stanislas to fire wide with the goal at his mercy. Then Collison's chipped pass picked out Franco on the far post, but his mis-hit shot went tamely wide.

"All I can say is that we didn't pose much threat to them, that is fair enough, but don't forget that they are the champions and we had a lot of young players in our team, so it wasn't easy."

Manchester United had a lot of young players too, but it was tactics that led to this predictable demise. It might have been an audacious move, but West Ham needed to go for it from the opening whistle and put the visitors and their improvised defence under pressure.

They may have lost, but surely that was the only way they were going to win.

"I can't be too hard with the players, they gave everything," said Zola. "They just played the game the way they had been asked to and their commitment was fantastic."

The manager hit the nail on the head. They played the way they had been asked to, the problem was they were asked to play the wrong way.

That's 19 goals West Ham have conceded at Upton Park this season, the most in the Premier League, and with Chelsea next up, that is hardly likely to improve.

West Ham: Green (Kurucz 73), Spector, Tomkins, Gabbidon, Ilunga, Collison, Parker, Kovac (Dyer 67), Stanislas, Franco, Hines (Diamanti h/t). Unused subs: Faubert, Da Costa, Nouble, Payne.

Att: 34,980. Referee: Peter Walton.