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When Robin van Persie opened the scoring in the 32nd second of Manchester United's home game against West Ham at Old Trafford, one might have expected a goal-feast, but a solid performance in between the posts by the ever reliable Jussi Jaaskelainen and some 93 minutes and 28 seconds later, the Dutchman's strike proved enough to give United the three points and a hold on top spot in the Premier League table. In fairness, Man United battered the Hammers for the better part of the contest and will probably be disappointed at having won by such a narrow margin, but Sir Alex (and Anders Lindegaard) will be happy to celebrate United's first clean sheet since the 7th of October.
Both sides made changes galore from their weekend fixtures with Man United replacing five of their weekend starters, but in no way looked a weakened team as Chris Smalling, Michael Carrick, Anderson, Javier Hernandez and Tom Cleverley all got games. There was no natural width in the United side today with Rooney sitting behind Robin van Persie and Chicharito, while Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck, so often deployed on the left wing, watched from the bench.
West Ham also made four changes to the team that were beaten at Tottenham at the weekend with Guy Demel and James Collins reinforcing the backline, while Matt Jarvis and Matthew Taylor provided some width and hopefully some crosses for on-loan Liverpool striker Andy Carroll.
It took the hosts only 30 seconds to break the deadlock with Robin van Persie ending his rather short goal drought with a deflected strike off Collins which gave Jussi Jaaskelainen in goal absolutely no chance whatsoever.
Manchester United enjoyed more than 60% of the possession in the first half, but their best chances appeared to be created on the counter with Javier Hernandez blazing an effort miles wide after racing through on the right wing and choosing not to cross to Van Persie, who had a host of defenders for company. Hernandez was better cutting on to right foot from the left, drawing a smart save out of Jaaskelainen.
West Ham on their part failed to work Anders Lindegaard in the United goal at all in the first half, but did have a couple of half-chances with Kevin Nolan hitting the side netting from an intelligent low cross from the left-wing, while Andy Carroll smashed his effort miles high after latching on to Michael Carrick's weak defensive header.
The Hammers started the second half well, obviously buoyed by what Big Sam might have said to them at half-time, but they were unable to sustain the pressure, and United soon found themselves back on the front foot, launching wave after wave of attack.
Jaaskelainen was forced into a couple of really good saves to deny Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick in quick succession, however, it was West Ham who pushed forward late in the contest, and probably should have drawn level when substitute Carlton Cole set up Matty Taylor, who fluffed the opportunity. Cole and another substitute Modibo Maiga both also had half chances to draw the Hammers level, but Lindegaard saved the first, while Maiga flashed his effort high.
United hung on a bit at the end, but got the crucial three points, which keep them one above arch rivals Manchester City, who won away to Wigan. A draw for Chelsea at home to Fulham though means that the two Manchester clubs now have some fresh air behind them as we head into December. United will begin what will be a busy month away to Reading, while City are at home against Everton.
Man Utd: Lindegaard, Da Silva, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Carrick, Anderson (Jones 84'), Cleverley (Young 66'), Rooney (Welbeck 78'), Van Persie, Hernandez.
Subs: De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Young, Welbeck, Fletcher, Buttner.
West Ham: Jaaskelainen, Demel, Reid, Collins, O'Brien, Taylor, Diame (O'Neil 76'), Tomkins, Jarvis (Maiga 70'), Nolan, Carroll (Cole 62').
Subs: Spiegel, Cole, Maiga, Spence, O'Neil, Moncur, Lletget.
Score: Manchester United 1-0 West Ham United (Van Persie 1')
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