OLD TRAFFORD // Manchester United strolled to a comfortable 3-0 victory over West Ham United to stay within two points of early Premier League leaders Chelsea. Wayne Rooney ended his 13-game goal drought with a first-half penalty before Nani and Dimitar Berbatov struck in the second period yesterday as Sir Alex Ferguson's side inflicted a third defeat in as many league games on West Ham's new manager Avram Grant.
West Ham had arrived at Old Trafford without an away win in 20 matches, not to mention pointless in the Premier League. While their supporters remained in good voice until the end, the early signs are that Grant, relegated with Portsmouth last term, faces another battle to beat the drop. No such worries for United, who soon had the Londoners in retreat, the impressive Nani threatening several times in the opening half hour, with only the woodwork denying him in the 24th minute.
United's opener came in the 33rd minute when Ryan Giggs sidestepped Jonathan Spector on his way into the box and the American, who started his career at Old Trafford, responded by diving in and bringing him down. Rooney, who missed last week's draw away to Fulham with a virus, duly sent Robert Green the wrong way from the spot to claim his first goal since March 30. "Strikers want to score and Wayne has got off the mark," said Ferguson. "His performance was the thing. He was full of life and energy and worked his socks off, he is needing games and that 90 minutes will bring him on."
With half-time approaching, Nani missed an even better chance when he lifted the ball over with just Green to beat moments before the break. The outcome was effectively decided when Nani struck within five minutes of the restart. Rooney's flick sent him running at the West Ham back line and he left the back-pedalling Danny Gabbidon on his backside as he cut inside before firing past Green from 15 yards.
Gabbidon made partial amends with a fine challenge that foiled Rooney just as he looked set to score a third and, to their credit, West Ham almost got a goal back through the lively Kieron Dyer after 56 minutes. The one-time England midfielder had shot into the side-netting in the first half; now he clipped the outside of the post from the edge of the box after a clever flick from Julien Faubert. Yet with United turning on the style, it came as no surprise when Berbatov made it three in the 69th minute. It was an eye-catching strike by the Bulgarian: John O'Shea supplied Nani on the right of the West Ham box and he lifted a cross to the far post where Berbatov smashed the ball past Green with a spectacular scissors-kick.
"Berbatov has fantastic technique and he orchestrated a lot of our football with Paul Scholes," added Ferguson. That ended scoring and set up what figures to be a busy few days for West Ham before the transfer window closes. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org