the ball’s path. Few protests met referee Lee Mason’s award of a penalty, which Noble duly dispatched past Kuszczak.
Despite the shock of falling behind against the run of play, United’s response was bright, with Antonio Valencia particularly prominent in some menacing forward probes. The Ecuadorian’s crosses prompted a succession of scrambled clearances from the hosts, as did a Wayne Rooney centre which narrowly eluded Ji-sung Park’s attempted diving header.
The Reds’ steady attempts to find a route back into the game were handed another blow after 23 minutes as Cole won his second penalty, advancing into the area and tumbling over the outstretched leg of Vidic. Unquestionably a foul, but outside the area according to the Serbian, inside it in the view of the striker and, most importantly, referee Mason. Noble steered home another unerring finish.
The flow of the game continued in the same vein, with United comfortably bossing possession. The Reds’ first real opening fell to Ji-sung Park, whose stinging half-volley was somehow turned over the bar by Green. From the subsequent corner Smalling rose highest again, but steered his header wide.
On the break, Hitzelsperger thrashed a half-volley wide with the hosts’ first notable attempt in open play. The German then came within a yard of West Ham’s third goal with a superb curling free-kick, awarded after Vidic had missed a header and subsequently hauled down Demba Ba. Much to the hosts’ ire, the Serbian was merely booked, while the home support demanded a dismissal.
The interval came and went with the deficit poised at two goals, and Sir Alex endeavoured to prompt a revival by introducing Chicharito at the expense of Evra, and moving Giggs to left-back. Little more than 30