05/12/2009 17:00, Report by Ben Hibbs
West Ham 0 United 4
There are two sides to this tale: There was the defiance in the face of horrendous injury problems in defence, which saw Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick deployed in a makeshift back four, and there was the devastation caused by United’s scintillating passing football, scything open West Ham’s own rearguard at will in the second half.
Paul Scholes gave United a half-time lead seconds before the half-time whistle, while goals from Darron Gibson, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney in a destructive second-half spell sealed an inspiring victory that closes the gap on league leaders Chelsea, who were beaten 2-1 by Manchester City on Saturday evening, to just two points.
United’s defence remains decimated – a point of great concern for the busy weeks ahead – with Patrice Evra being the only first-choice member of the usual back four selected in his natural position. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, John O’Shea, Jonny Evans, Rafael and Fabio were all missing at Upton Park, as was Edwin van der Sar, meaning Sir Alex had drafted in Fletcher at right-back, shifted Gary Neville into central defence with Wes Brown, and Tomasz Kuszczak continued to deputise in goal. Worse still, Neville and Brown were both forced off with injury during the game.
That worrying state of affairs made Carlton Cole’s absence from West Ham's attack something of a blessing. Even so, Gianfranco Zola’s side have scored 15 times in their last six league games, so it wasn’t bound to be an easy ride - that is until United turned on the style after the break.
Sir Alex, returning to the touchline following a two-game ban, kept faith with midfield pair Gibson and Anderson in midfield – with the oustanding Scholes added into the mix – after their impressive performances in the Carling Cup win over Tottenham Hotspur. It was a particular vote of confidence for Gibson, who scored twice on Tuesday, a faith which he would spectacularly repay.