Man United v Hammers

Ruud Van Nistelrooy's goal on the stroke of half-time condemned unlucky Hammers to a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

Despite a brave, battling performance, Alan Pardew's men were unable to make it three away wins in the space of nine days, as the Dutch striker proved the difference on the night.

The Hammers boss named an unchanged starting line-up following Saturday's 2-1 win at Wigan Athletic, meaning that there was no return for Anton Ferdinand - still recovering from a groin strain that had forced him to miss the trip to the JJB Stadium and our FA Cup quarter-final victory at Manchester City last week.

Instead, Anton had to make do with a place on the subs bench, just as he had done for West Ham United's last trip to Old Trafford back in January 2003 when, as a raw 17-year-old on his debut outing with the first team, he watched from the sidelines as Glenn Roeder's relegation-bound side were hammered 6-0 in an FA Cup fourth round tie.

This time around, Hammers arrived as FA Cup semi-finalists and bubbling with confidence, a state of mind that was made clear by the bright and lively start they made to proceedings.

Just two minutes were on the clock when Etherington fired a fierce left-foot volley just inches over the bar, and the visitors then forced no less than four corners inside the opening 10 minutes, as Benayoun began to cause problems on the right.

From one of those corners, Hammers came close to taking the lead, as Etherington's deep centre was met at the far post by Scaloni, whose powerful volley cannoned off Ashton in the six-yard box but bounced agonisingly just wide of the post.

It took until the 20th minute for United to register their first effort on target - a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick from 30 yards out that was spilled by Hislop but gathered at the second attempt.

On 25 minutes, the first substitution of the evening was made - but at no cost to either side. Instead, it was referee Graham Poll who had to be replaced, due to a hamstring strain that forced fourth official Martin Atkinson into unexpected action.

United enjoyed their best spell of the first half 10 minutes before the interval, as first Pique forced Hislop into a diving save with a 25-yard effort that was heading for the top corner, then a Park corner travelled low through a crowd of players and dropped at the feet of Vidic, who saw his shot crash against the base of the post before Gabbidon cleared the rebound.

Still Hammers pushed on bravely and, just minutes before the interval, Ashton drove a low effort into the side-netting following Etherington's mazy run, while Harewood fired a fierce drive straight at Van der Sar.

When Poll - in his new role as a stand-in fourth official - held up the board signalling one minute of stoppage time, it appeared the visitors would head to the dressing-rooms deservedly level. However, in a frustrating repeat of Saturday's trip to Wigan, a momentary lapse of concentration saw our opponents open the scoring right on the stroke of half-time.

After Gabbidon had uncharacteristically dithered on the edge of the penalty area, the ball was only half-cleared and then played out wide to Park, who got past Konchesky to the by-line and slipped the ball back for Van Nistelrooy to sweep past Hislop at the near post.

It was cruel on Alan Pardew's men, who certainly didn't deserve to go in trailing but, displaying the determination and focus that has served them so well throughout the campaign, they refused to throw in the towel after the break and matched United in every department for the entire second half.

Indeed, Hislop didn't have another save to make until the 75th minute, when Wayne Rooney - marshalled so well by the combined efforts of James Collins, Gabbidon and Hayden Mullins all evening - saw a hooked effort bounce back off the bar and Van Nistelrooy's snapshot from the rebound was collected by the Hammers keeper.

By then, Anton Ferdinand had entered the action in place of Scaloni to finally make his long-awaited first appearance at Old Trafford, while Marlon Harewood had almost claimed an equaliser when he was inches away from meeting Konchesky's cross at the far post.

With 10 minutes remaining, Pards threw on Bobby Zamora and Teddy Sheringham - who received a hero's welcome from both the home and away supporters - in an attempt to snatch something from the game but, despite dominating possession in the closing stages, Hammers simply couldn't find the breakthrough they needed.

The fantastic travelling fans expressed their appreciation at the final whistle for a brave, battling performance but, such is the progress that West Ham United have made this season, we come away from Old Trafford disappointed to have fallen to a narrow 1-0 defeat against the Premiership's second-placed team.