But the inevitable breakthrough arrived on 23 minutes, and in some style. Rafael and Chicharito combined down the right and the latter’s cross fell at Tom Cleverley’s feet at the far post. Cleverley’s first-time finish was excellent – he adjusted his body shape to steer the ball unstoppably into the far corner of the net.
The lead was surprisingly short-lived, however, as West Ham’s energy and efficacy remained undiminished. Four minutes after United scored, Joe Cole, playing his first game since rejoining the Hammers, crossed for James Collins to glance a header beyond De Gea.
The Reds had shaded the first-half action, particularly on the break with Kagawa, Cleverley, Chicharito and Welbeck lively in attack. But West Ham bristled with intent from crosses and set-pieces and Sam Allardyce will have felt worthy of half-time parity.
United started brightly after the break and good combination-play from Welbeck and Rafael on the right led to an opening for Cleverley on the edge of the box, but the ball bobbled and the Reds midfielder blazed a shot over the bar.
However, United were once again undone by the combination of Cole and Collins in the 59th minute and really it was a carbon copy of the Hammers’ first-half goal. For all United’s neat attacking play, it was West Ham’s power that held sway after the hour mark.