Reo-Coker gives Curbs winning start

Alan Curbishley's reign as West Ham United manager got off to the perfect start on Sunday afternoon as his team secured a memorable 1-0 win over Premiership leaders Manchester United.

A 75th minute strike from captain Nigel Reo-Coker gave the new Hammers boss his first-ever victory against Manchester United as a manager and, although the result failed to lift the Club out of the bottom three, it ensured that confidence returned ahead of the busy Christmas period.

Curbishley made three changes to the team that started last week's 4-0 defeat at Bolton Wanderers. Anton Ferdinand made a welcome return from an ankle injury to replace George McCartney in the centre of defence, while Lee Bowyer and Bobby Zamora came in for Christian Dailly and Carlos Tevez.

Prior to kick-off, Curbs and his assistant Mervyn Day received a rapturous welcome from the claret and blue faithful - more than 27 years after they both left Upton Park as players - and after one of the most eventful weeks in the Club's recent history, there was almost a sense of relief as the talking finally stopped and the football began.

And from the word go, the newly-discovered optimism and freshness was evident, as Hammers took the game to the Premiership table-toppers and made the livelier start. First Marlon Harewood tricked his way past Vidic and sent in a low cross that was cleared by a defender, then Etherington missed the first real chance of the afternoon on 10 minutes when he headed Bowyer's cross wide of the target.

Moments later, Harewood came even closer with a blistering shot on the turn from the edge of the penalty area that whistled just inches over the bar, although the class of the visitors was always apparent, and they provided a reminder of exactly that when Saha forced Green into a diving save in the 20th minute.

Hammers refused to loosen their grip, though, and should have opened the scoring 10 minutes before the break, when a long ball forward from Collins caught the United defence square and Zamora out-muscled Rio Ferdinand to leave himself bearing down on Edwin Van der Sar. The goalkeeper came to his team's rescue, though, palming away the striker's close-range effort.

The hosts were almost made the pay immediately, as Ronaldo's cross from the left found its way through to Wayne Rooney, but the England forward's instinctive header squirmed just past the post, before Green then excelled himself again with a fine one-handed save to again deny Saha.

The second half continued in the same end-to-end fashion, as first Ronaldo caused Green some problems with a fierce, swerving long-range free-kick and then Zamora went close again with a right-foot shot that flew just over the bar.

On 56 minutes, the visitors looked to have found the breakthrough when Ronaldo dribbled clear in the penalty area, but Green was the hero again with a stunning save to deny the Portuguese winger, who had been virtually wheeling away in celebration as his low effort headed towards the bottom corner.

Minutes later, Curbishley made a change up front, as Sheringham entered the fray against his former club in place of Zamora, but it was the visitors who were beginning to get a stranglehold on the game, and should have taken the lead on the hour mark when Ronaldo cut the ball back for Giggs, who blazed his shot over the bar from 12 yards out.

Ten minutes later, Curbishley provided another statement of attacking intent by replacing Hayden Mullins with Yossi Benayoun, while United also added some impetus as Solskjaer came on for Giggs.

As the game reached its closing stages, it appeared that a point would be the best Hammers could hope for but, with just 15 minutes remaining, satisfaction turned to ecstasy, as the winner arrived.

Sheringham's clever pass into the penalty area found Harewood who, with his back to goal, found a yard of space and cut the ball back into the six-yard box, where Reo-Coker arrived with perfect timing to slot home his first goal of the season and send the 34,966 crowd wild with delight.

Just as pleasing for Curbishley was the discipline and focus with which his team played out the remainder of the match. With the exception of a Ronaldo long-range effort, Green was hardly troubled, and the final whistle signalled the perfect start for the new manager.