Defensive injuries overshadow comfortable win for Sir Alex Ferguson

West Ham 0 Manchester United 4

ON THE day Paul Scholes declared he was no longer good enough for Manchester United and would probably disappear into the sunset at the end of the season, he produced a performance that would have steamed up the designer glasses of England manager Fabio Capello.

Like his predecessor, Steve McClaren, Capello had been hoping that Scholes could be persuaded to consider reversing his decision to quit international football. There is more chance of Scholes turning up at a karaoke evening, but if he were sitting in front of England’s back four in South Africa next summer, all the tub-thumping about their chances of winning the World Cup would be more credible.

The 35-year-old gave a masterclass in the sniping role in front of the back four, and delivered a cherry on the top via a superb opening goal that set United on their way to a sublime and far too easy victory against the pitiful Hammers. Collecting a cross from Ryan Giggs, 12 months his senior, he dismissed the challenge of Radoslav Kovac and smashed in a left-foot volley, his 99th league goal for United.

West Ham were demoralised by the time the ball hit the back of the net on the stroke of half-time, and were overrun in the second half. United turned on a football display as easy on the eye as Arsenal’s and as ruthless as Chelsea in turning it into an end product.

Scholes’s performance was all the more meritorious because two of the back four were complete impostors. Darren Fletcher (Arsène Wenger’s favourite midfield enforcer) was pressed into action at right-back, and when Gary Neville, a makeshift centre-half, came off injured, Michael Carrick auditioned for a central defensive role.

The changes were brought about by injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. The latter’s absence could soon become permanent amid rumours that Mrs Vidic is threatening to take a golf club to her husband’s car if he does not end his love affair with United and move to a more fashionable city than Manchester.

West Ham were also missing key players, such as centre-half Matthew Upson and energetic midfielder Mark Noble. The difference is that they do not have multi-million-pound stars like Dimitar Berbatov to step off the bench, nor even a youngster as good as Darren Gibson, 22, who scored his third goal of the week for United’s second just after the hour.

With West Ham hardly a threat, Antonio Valencia filled his boots after a fine pass by Anderson picked him out. A minute later, Wayne Rooney was given the freedom of Upton Park by West Ham’s defence and duly tucked the ball away. West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green, who bravely played on despite being sick on the pitch, then decided it was time to call it a day.

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola, whose team have conceded 10 goals in three league matches, seven of them at Upton Park, said: “We are in shock but I can’t be too hard on my players. We should have put more pressure on them but they are the champions. We cannot do more up front unless I put my boots back on.”

Incredibly, Manchester United lost another central defender in the final minute when Wes Brown limped off. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, back on the bench after his touchline ban, hardly turned a hair as he considered his options for Tuesday’s Champions League game in Wolfsburg, saying: “Vidic should be back after flu and I’ll probably play Carrick there again.”


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