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Champions cruise to victory in east London...

Manchester United maintained the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea with a comfortable victory over West Ham United at Upton Park.

The champions began the game with an unusual looking defence, Gary Neville partnering Wes Brown in the middle, due to Nemanja Vidic’s absence, and Darren Fletcher taking the right back spot. Yet the home side had injury problems of their own with Zavon Hines and James Tomkins replacing the injured pair of Carlton Cole and Matthew Upson. 

Perhaps the injuries were to blame for a first half largely devoid of incident. Indeed it took until almost the tenth minute before the Upton Park faithful were given anything to shout about.

Ryan Giggs was the man to hand the Hammers encouragement, the Welshman passing straight to Hines before redeeming himself by getting back to deny Jack Collison a simple finish.

Matters were about to get worse for the champions with Neville limping off just after the half hour mark forcing Sir Alex Ferguson to send on Michael Carrick as an emergency centre-half.

United’s makeshift defence should have given the home side added hope yet in stoppage time at the end of the first half they were dealt a cruel blow with Paul Scholes sending United in to the break ahead.

The veteran picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and chested it down before sending it high, past Robert Green and into the top corner in classic Scholes style, for his 99th Premier League goal.

Classic – Scholes strikes back

Gianfranco Zola had his work cut out at the interval, yet within seconds of the restart his side could, and probably should, have been back on level terms.

Guillermo Franco cut United apart with an inch perfect pass but Junior Stanislas just hesitated for a fraction of a second, allowing an alert Tomasz Kuszczak to come out and claim.

With an hour on the clock the home side went close again, this time through Tomkins. A free-kick into the box found the defender unmarked but the youngster could only direct his header straight at Kuszczak.

It was to prove a costly miss as less than five minutes later the visitors had doubled their lead with another great strike from range. Giggs, yet again, was the instigator breaking down the left before rolling the ball to Darron Gibson, who repeated his midweek heroics, by rifling into the top corner from fully 20 yards.

Yet the Hammers could have halved the deficit almost immediately. A free kick from Alessandro Diamanti beat the United wall but not goalkeeper Kuszczak who parried well.

The champions then assumed full control and two goals in two minutes made the game completely safe as the east Londoners were overwhelmed.

First Antonio Valencia tapped in Anderson’s low cross before the Ecuadorian turned provider with his cross allowing Wayne Rooney an easy finish to ensure all three points.

The win sees the Red Devils move to within two points of Chelsea, ahead of their clash with Manchester City, while West Ham remain mired in trouble at the bottom of the table. 

Gill Clark, UK