United too strong

Manchester United 2 West Ham United 0

On a freezing and frustrating north-west night, West Ham United were unfortunately left in the cold at Old Trafford by the reigning Barclays Premier League champions.

Despite putting up some solid, second half resistance in which they might even have forced an interesting finale, the contest was settled by two first half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, who celebrated the announcement of his FIFPro World Footballer of the Year award with a decisive double.

Following Sunday's defeat against Arsenal, Gianfranco Zola had made just two enforced changes as Valon Behrami and Matthew Etherington came in for Scott Parker (calf) and the suspended Carlton Cole. Sir Alex Ferguson, on the other hand, made five switches from the side that had drawn at Everton as Tomasz Kuszczak, Anderson, Nani, Carlos Tevez and Rafael Da Silva replaced Edwin van der Sar, Wes Brown plus substitutes Ji-Sung Park, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney.

After drawing against Everton on Saturday, the Red Devils quickly set about getting back to winning ways. Indeed, as early as the second minute, Ronaldo carved down the left flank before squaring into Dimitar Berbatov, who saw his point-blank shot deflected over.

Shortly afterwards, Nani elaborately back-heeled weakly into the clutches of the crouching Robert Green, who then saw the Portuguese playmaker nonchalantly drill an angled 15-yarder across the face of goal.

Already it was clear that Zola's strategy was to rely on cunning counter-attacks using the pace of Etherington and the tireless Craig Bellamy and, on seven minutes, Julien Faubert''s raid forward was thwarted by former Boleyn Ground defender Rio Ferdinand, before Kuszczak hastily hacked clear in a defensive scramble and then Etherington saw his low 20-yarder held by the home 'keeper.

But those anxious moments quickly subsided for the home supporters, who saw the grounded Green bravely dive into the studs of Berbatov before Matthew Upson cleared the loose ball off the line.

Although the visitors survived that scare, just seconds later, the home side took the lead when Nani's 13th-minute cross from the left was swept home from ten yards by Ronaldo, who claimed his fourth goal of the season.

Having just made one, Nani then went close to netting himself when he again fired agonisingly across goal and, after the over-lapping Behrami's by-line cutback was intercepted, Patrice Evra was then booked for scything through the Swiss international.

On the half-hour mark, that man Ronaldo turned an already uphill task into a mountainous mission. The United No7 got in front of Herita Ilunga to slide home from six yards, after Anderson's inch-perfect pass had found Berbatov, who rolled the ball into the danger zone having beaten James Collins on the by-line with a dazzling dance that would have seen him waltz past any defender in the land.

The pain of that two-goal deficit was compounded for the battered Bellamy shortly afterwards, when he took the full impact of Kuszczak's charge from the goal-line and worse followed when Behrami was stretchered away after injuring his calf as he escaped Evra on the stroke of half-time.

With his replacement Luis Boa Morte still finding his feet, Green pulled off a superb flying save to hold a close-range header from former team-mate Carlos Tevez, who again received a rapturous reception from the vociferous visiting fans amongst the sold-out Old Trafford crowd of 75,397.

Jack Collison replaced Etherington for the restart as Zola reverted to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation in a bid to shore up his midfield and although Ronaldo, Berbatov and Tevez continued to threaten, the visitors held them at bay.

Midway through the second half, the quick-thinking Bellamy was just inches away from embarrassing the back-pedalling Kuszczak with a 40-yard free-kick that sailed over the bar.

That was the catalyst for Zola to introduce Freddie Sears in place of Lee Bowyer, while Rooney and former West Ham United midfielder Michael Carrick stepped from the home bench as Darren Fletcher and Nani departed.

Rooney soon deposited the ball onto the roof of Green's net with a cheeky chip before forcing Green to beat away his fierce 20-yarder and sending another curler over the angle.

At the other end, Boa Morte ghosted into the home penalty area, where he steered the ball straight to the helplessly-exposed Kuszczak as the offside flag stayed down and, with five minutes remaining, the breaking David Di Michele looked set to force a frenzied finale, only for Nemanja Vidic to intervene at the vital moment and sum up a night of frustration for the visitors.