Manchester United returned to within one point of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League thanks to a Wayne Rooney inspired 3-0 victory over West Ham United.
Sir Alex Ferguson rang the changes with five alterations to his starting XI. Ben Foster, Nemanja Vidic, Darron Gibson, Paul Scholes and Anderson all returned but there was no place for Edwin van der Sar and England captain Rio Ferdinand in the matchday squad.
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola made just one change to the side that beat Hull City with midfielder Mark Noble replacing Scott Parker.
The first chance of the match fell to the hosts in the sixth minute; a chipped ball from Wayne Rooney found Antonio Valencia inside the penalty area but the Ecuadorian missed the ball with a left foot shot and the West Ham defence easily cleared the danger.
It wasn’t until the 19th minute when West Ham had their first effort on goal. The visitors broke on the counter attack and Guillermo Franco found Valon Behrami on the right-hand-side of the area. The Swiss midfielder steadied himself before firing a low shot across Ben Foster but wide of the far post.
Minutes later Alessandro Diamanti sent a warning to Manchester United with a long range strike. The Italian’s looping effort caused Foster to panic but the goalkeeper managed to back track and make an easy save.
In the 25th minute the home side very nearly took the lead as Robert Green was unable to hold onto a left footed shot from Valencia which caused a goalmouth scramble. The loose ball fell to Gibson, whose deflected shot was back heeled by Dimitar Berbatov and looked to be trickling into the back of the net only for Green’s outstretched left leg to stop the ball.
Manchester United pushed for the opening goal and Darron Gibson had two chances to put the hosts in front. His first chance came from a patient build up involving Rooney and Scholes, the veteran midfielder finding Valencia on the right wing and his pull back was hit straight at Green by Gibson. A minute later another strike from the Northern Irish midfielder was well tipped around the post by the Hammers’ goalkeeper.
Five minutes later the home side did take the lead and it was Rooney who got the goal. Vidic broke out of defence, his pass found substitute Ji-Sung Park, who in turn found Berbatov. The Bulgarian delivered a lofted cross to the right wing where Valencia volleyed his cross into the centre of the goal where Rooney stooped to head past Green.
Flying winger | Valencia was impressive
In the 41st minute a piece of magic from Rooney nearly doubled the lead as a long range pass from Scholes found its way to the England striker with his back to goal. He flicked the ball in the air, swivelled and fired a volley towards the top corner which just scraped the crossbar of Green’s goal.
Manchester United came out for the second half and within 20 seconds they had nearly doubled their lead. A cross from Valencia on the right wing found Park but his right foot shot struck Green’s left-hand post.
In the 54th minute the home side doubled their lead thanks to a second goal for Rooney. Berbatov released Valencia into the West Ham penalty area, his chipped cross found Rooney who headed past Green for his 27th goal of the season.
Five minutes later the in-form England striker robbed the ball from Green near the corner flag and turned and fired an audacious shot towards goal only for Julian Faubert to clear off the line to deny him his hat-trick.
With 12 minutes to play, Rooney and Berbatov were replaced by Michael Owen and Mame Biram Diouf as Sir Alex Ferguson looked to rest players for the League Cup final.
A minute after coming on, Owen made it 3-0 with his first touch of the match. The striker latched onto a through ball from Scholes and calmly passed the ball into the back of net to put the game beyond West Ham and secure the points for Manchester United.