Sir Alex Ferguson delighted with Manchester United's 'Christmas time' clean sheet

The Red Devils' boss praised the defensive performance of the returning Chris Smalling, and believes a solid backline could provide the foundation for a strong title challenge
Sir Alex Ferguson praised Manchester United’s defence after grinding out a 1-0 victory at home to West Ham on Wednesday night.

Robin van Persie netted the fastest league goal so far this season with a deflected shot in the opening minute, but the Red Devils were unable to convert any more of their chances.

Ferguson told Sky Sports News: "West Ham are renowned for making it difficult for you. They’re a very dogged team to break down.

"But we got a great start and I thought from there we could have pushed on. Some of our football was very good at times, but we never finished them off."

Asked if it felt unusual for his side to score the first goal in a game, after coming from behind to win six times already this term, the Scot quipped: "Yes, and to keep a clean sheet. That's Christmas time!

"I thought Chris Smalling did very well having just come into the team after a long absence with injury. Jonny Evans was magnificent and Rafael Da Silva was fantastic, absolutely terrific.

"So we do have plus points tonight, particularly defending. You have to against them because you have to against them because they're such a handful.

"We had opportunities to finish them off with some good football, but you've got to give credit to West Ham, they did really fight hard.

"They're a very well organised, big powerful team. I'm pleased with the result."

The win sees United retain their place at the top of the Premier League, one point above Manchester City.

Sir Alex added: "I think that if we can keep clean sheets more often it will give us a good foundation with which to go for the title."