Hammers edged out

Manchester United climbed back to the top of the Barclays Premier League table with a narrow 1-0 win over West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground.

Ryan Giggs' superb individual goal 28 minutes from time - his first league strike of the season - was all that separated the Hammers from the champions on a cold day in east London. The veteran Welsh winger showed all his experience and ability to cut inside the challenges of Carlton Cole and Valon Behrami before arrowing a low, right-foot shot through a crowd of players and past Robert Green.

Defeat was harsh on a Hammers side who matched their illustrious opponents for effort and commitment as well as skill and endeavour for long periods. Naming an unchanged starting lineup for the fourth league game in succession, Gianfranco Zola sent his team out to play Manchester United at their own game, passing and moving all over the pitch. The plan so nearly worked, but the home side instead fell to their first defeat in nine matches in all competitions.

For all their neat, incisive interplay, Sir Alex Ferguson's men created precious little in the way of clear-cut chances, instead settling for a succession of long-range efforts that were either blocked or flew well off-target. In midfield, Scott Parker was forever snapping at the heels of his United counterparts, while behind him James Collins was an immovable pillar at the heart of the defence.

Unlike the many teams whose sole aim is to survive for 90 minutes against the Red Devils, Zola's players attempted to play their way past Ferguson's side. As a result, West Ham were able to trouble the champions at the attacking end of the field too, with Cole - called into the full England squad for the first time alongside Green and Matthew Upson on Saturday evening - and the unlikely figure of captain Lucas Neill both going close.

The Hammers'' two best chances of the opening half came within 60 seconds of one another. First, Mark Noble's deep 12th-minute corner fell to Neill, who took a touch before firing in a low shot that Edwin van der Sar - who has now not been beaten for a British record 1,212 minutes - was able to gather at the second attempt. Shortly after, the England Under-21 man sent Cole free with a superb through-ball, only for the Dutchman to claw the striker's chip out of the sky at full stretch.

For the visitors, the first half was one of frustration. Collins used his head to block a Dimitar Berbatov snapshot, while Cristiano Ronaldo nodded a Giggs corner powerfully wide at the near post. Minutes later, Green had to be at his brilliant best to divert the ball over the crossbar after Ronaldo had expertly flicked Paul Scholes' shot towards his net.

The second period followed much the same path as the first, with both sets of players weaving intricate patterns without prising open their opponents' defence. Neill again worked van der Sar with a well-struck shot, but the veteran had precious little else to contend with. The same could be said of Green until Giggs' intervention shortly after the hour-mark.

To West Ham's credit, they did not allow the 35-year-old's goal to take the wind out of their sails. Cole continued to hassle and harry former Hammer Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, causing the latter to work his way into referee Phil Dowd's notebook for a clumsy foul. The in-form front man was also unlucky to see his goalbound flick from Noble's neat cutback deflected wide by Ferdinand. Despite all his efforts, and the introduction of Savio and Diego Tristan from the substitutes' bench, the elusive equaliser just would not materialise.

While they were defeated, West Ham were far from disgraced in being defeated by a United side that has won its last eight Premier League matches and kept a record 12 consecutive clean sheets.

As such, manager Zola will hope his players return from the midweek international break fit and raring to go in next Saturday's FA Cup fifth round tie against Middlesbrough. Although booked against the champions, Neill will be eligible for that tie, with his automatic one-match ban for five cautions to be served at Bolton Wanderers when league action resumes on Saturday 21 February.