Champions take the points

West Ham United were unable to continue their recent run of form against Premier League champions Manchester United as they were beaten 4-1 by the determined title-contenders in an early kick-off at Old Trafford.

Four of the goals came in the opening half an hour and the home side took the lead inside the first five minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo capitalised when Hammers captain Lucas Neill lost his balance. The Portuguese winger skipped into the box and fired past Robert Green, the ball taking a slight deflection off George McCartney as it flew into the net.

Bobby Zamora came within inches of equalising minutes later but his looping header was cleared off the line by Patrice Evra. Neill was on hand to clear Owen Hargreaves' testing ball into the box moments later as United threatened to double their lead and James Tomkins provided an equally timely clearance to head clear as Ji-sung Park threatened to take aim.

Just after a quarter of an hour, referee Mike Riley waved away West Ham United's claims for a seemingly clear-cut penalty as United defender Wes Brown scooped the ball away from Bobby Zamora in the penalty area with his hand.

Tomkins kept his composure after 18 minutes to blast Carlos Tevez's shot across goal clear of danger. Fellow centre-back Neill then dispossessed Ronaldo moments later as he dribbled dangerously through the penalty area.

United doubled their lead in the 25th minute as Hargreaves' cross to the far post bounced off Ronaldo's thigh and in. Tevez added a third a minute later with a sublime strike from 25 yards, which glided effortlessly into the roof of the net.

But West Ham United's response was instant and emphatic. Dean Ashton pulled a goal back with an outstanding overhead kick as Brown's misplaced header fell to him in the area.

The incident-packed first half continued in the same vein as it began. With less than ten minutes to go before the break United were a man down as Nani was sent off for a headbutt on Neill. George McCartney was booked moments later for a late challenge on Ronaldo as the game took a tempestuous turn.

The second half evolved into a more languid affair. Just after the break John Pantsil carved out an opening for the visitors as he dummied Park and fizzed the ball across the box but Rio Ferdinand cleared. Alan Curbishley brought Nolberto Solano on in the 52nd minute for Luis Boa Morte, who appeared to be struggling and signalling to the bench.

Carlton Cole came on for Dean Ashton with just over half an hour left to play but within minutes United had scored a fourth. Former Hammer Michael Carrick let fly with a long-range effort which deflected off Neill and into the net.

In the 68th minute Zamora was also added to the book for an alleged handball in the penalty area after he controlled Solano's long ball with his chest and took aim at Edwin van der Sar's goal. United came close to scoring a fifth three minutes later when substitute Darren Fletcher's shot smashed back off the post.

Freddie Sears came into the mix in front of the 76, 000-strong crowd with fifteen minutes left, replacing Hayden Mullins, but the young striker struggled to break through United's steadfast defence.