Gianfranco Zola conceded West Ham United had lost to the better side following Saturday's 4-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at the hands of Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground.
The Hammers restricted the champions to pot shots until Paul Scholes broke the deadlock with a goal just 20 seconds before the half-time whistle. The strike, the former England midfielder's 99th Barclays Premier League goal of a glittering career, paved the way for an improved second-half display from the visitors. Further goals from Darron Gibson, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney gave the scoreline a harsh, one-sided appearance, but Zola said his team had given their all.
"Their finishing was excellent, especially their first two goals. Their first goal was the one that changed the story of the game, really, because we were defending quite well. We worked all week to defend against them and it was working. We just needed one more minute.
"After that, the second goal was a fantastic strike. After that we tried to chase the game and they took advantage of that. We knew the game was going to be like that. We just needed to stay solid until the end and maybe take a counter-attacking opportunity but it didn't happen and that's it.
"I can't be too hard on the players. They gave everything again so there is nothing to say, nothing to complain about."
West Ham gave as good as they got before Scholes' opener, with Jack Collison and Junior Stanislas both going close to giving the home side the lead. Defensively, James Tomkins and Danny Gabbidon stood firm, while captain Scott Parker and Radoslav Kovac worked hard to stifle the combined threat of Scholes, Gibson and Anderson.
"We tried [to get at Manchester United] but the gameplan was just to wait for them. They were playing with five midfielders so they were playing three midfielders and two wingers. I know they were expecting us to go there and play counterattack so we wanted them to come and do the same to them. It was working quite well but their goal changed everything.
"The only thing I can say is that we didn't pose too much threat to them. That's fair enough, but don't forget that they are the champions and we had a lot of young players in our team, and so it wasn't easy." Already without the injured Matthew Upson, Valon Behrami, Carlton Cole and Luis Jimenez, as well as the ill Mark Noble, Zola was forced to reshuffle his pack again when Zavon Hines was forced off with a knee problem at half-time.
Things got even more difficult when goalkeeper Robert Green was withdrawn after falling unwell, handing Hungarian youngster Peter Kurucz a first-team debut in difficult circumstances. "Robert came off because he was feeling sick. He felt sick at the beginning of the second half and just before the goal and that's it, really. We didn't take him off straight away because we thought he could carry on but I don't think it affected the goals we conceded afterwards.
"Zavon gave everything and we felt sorry for him because he gave everything and he was excellent in the first half. He felt the knee again and he had to come off. I don't know what it's going to be but it's not looking good."
With a number of important players sidelined, Zola was keeping his cards close to his chest regarding possible activity in January. "I have to give credit to the players because they are giving everything but we'll see. We need to consider that."