England striker hits 14-minute hat-trick midway through second half to salvage three points after dismal opening half sees West Ham score two penalties and Vidic escape red card
Manchester United conjured an incredible second-half fightback to overturn a 2-0 deficit and defeat West Ham, with Wayne Rooney striking a quickfire hat-trick midway through the period to extend their lead at the top of the table.
It had looked as though the visitors were going to taste defeat when two Mark Noble penalties in the first half put West Ham 2-0 up at half time, with Nemanja Vidic perhaps fortunate not to have been sent off for a last-ditch foul on Demba Ba shortly before the break.
But Rooney single-handedly rescued his side with a superb treble, the third of which came from a controversially awarded penalty from referee Lee Mason. Substitute Javier Hernandez rounded off the comeback with a tap-in seven minutes from time.
Sir Alex Ferguson sprang a number of surprises with his starting line-up, not least leaving Dimitar Berbatov and Hernandez on the bench, with Rooney operating as a lone striker. Tomasz Kuszczak replaced Edwin van der Sar in goal, while Park Ji-Sung and Darron Gibson came into midfield.
West Ham were boosted by Scott Parker being passed fit to start, while Frederic Piquionne and Robbie Keane were able to take a place on the bench.
The first chance of the game fell to the visitors, with Ryan Giggs’ corner finding Chris Smalling at the back post but the defender’s header was easily tipped over the bar by Robert Green in the West Ham goal.
Former West Ham midfielder Michael Carrick tried his luck from distance after eight minutes, but his rising shot was always heading well over Green’s crossbar.
But with their first serious attack of the game, West Ham were awarded a penalty. A hoof downfield by Thomas Hitzlsperger found Carlton Cole, and the striker appeared to have wasted the opening when Patrice Evra covered defensively. However the West Ham man attempted to lob the ball over the Frenchman, who clearly blocked with his hand leaving referee Lee Mason no option but to point to the spot.
Noble stepped up, and confidently swept the penalty low to his left, sending Kuszczak the wrong way, and West Ham, out of nowhere, were 1-0 to the good.
United responded by involving Antonio Valencia at every opportunity. His low cross on 16 minutes forced a good clearance from Manuel Da Costa in his own six-yard box.
Astonishingly, West Ham were awarded another penalty on 24 minutes, and this was even more clear-cut than the first decision, Nemanja Vidic off balance and tripping Cole just inside the box. Noble stepped up and put a wonderfully struck penalty into the opposite top corner of the net from his previous effort, with Kuszczak helpless. The United keeper had yet to make a save, but his side were 2-0 down.
Manchester United knew they were up against it now, and Park Ji-Sung could barely believe his eyes when his shot from 16 yards, unchallenged, was incredibly deflected over the bar by Green’s wrists.
The visitors were on the ropes, and Hitzlsperger had a fabulous chance to add to West Ham’s lead, but he blazed a half-volley wide from 14 yards after a terrific cross found his run untracked from midfield.
Vidic’s sleepy performance should have ended on 41 minutes when he was caught out by another long ball and then hauled down Demba Ba. With no other player between them and the goal, it seemed as though referee Mason would have to show a red card, yet somehow he opted for yellow and spared the United defender. Hitzlsperger then crashed the free kick narrowly wide of Kuszczak’s goal.
Given the flow of the first half, it was little surprise to see Sir Alex make a change at half-time, Hernandez coming on in place of Evra, with Giggs moving to left-back. Within 35 seconds of the restart, the Mexican had shown his threat, catching the Hammers' defence on their heels but directing a Giggs cross over the bar with the outside of his boot on the volley.
Noble gesture | The West Ham man celebrates the first of his two first-half penalties
With 20 minutes elapsed in the second half and Man United making little headway, Berbatov was brought on for Park as Rooney lined up a free-kick 25 yards from goal. In an instant, it was 2-1, the England striker curling the set-piece gloriously over the wall and into the net beyond a despairing dive from Green.
The visitors could sense their chance had arrived, and Gibson tried his luck from the edge of the box which was deflected wide for a corner, which Carrick narrowly failed to direct on target.
Clever play from Berbatov on the left wing had Da Costa trailing in his wake and the Bulgarian raced to the byline before trying to sneak a shot in at Green's near post, but the goalkeeper was alert to the danger and poked it wide with his toe.
West Ham were being forced further and further back onto the defensive, and it was little surprise when Rooney crashed home the equaliser on 73 minutes. Valencia's ball found the striker on the edge of the box and an exquisite first touch took him away from the defenders and allowed him to blast a right-foot shot low across Green and into the bottom left corner.
Manchester United were now all over their hosts, and a superb run from Fabio on the right wing produced the decisive moment of the match. The Brazilian was trapped on the byline and flicked the ball over Matthew Upson's outstretched leg and onto his arm. After a glance at his assistant, referee Mason controversially pointed to the spot.
An ebullient Rooney was not about to pass up the gift of an opportunity for his hat-trick, and confidently struck his penalty low to the right, with Green diving left.
With West Ham's confidence completely drained, United struck a fourth seven minutes from time as Giggs' low cross somehow slipped through Upson's legs and allowed Hernandez a simple tap-in at the back post.
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