Van Persie quick off mark but United live on nerves
Manchester Utd 1 West Ham 0
Published 29/11/2012 | 05:00
On a night when Old Trafford appeared more interested in wallowing in nostalgia for Eric Cantona, Robin van Persie gave further evidence of his modern-day status as Manchester United's talisman by securing an uninspiring victory against West Ham.
With Monday having marked the 20th anniversary of Cantona's arrival at Old Trafford from Leeds, the Stretford End aired songs of praise in honour of the Frenchman throughout, but Van Persie ensured that the here and now was taken care of by scoring the winning goal just 31 seconds into the game.
In 20 years' time, they will still sing Cantona's name, but Van Persie is on the fast-track to joining his maverick predecessor in Old Trafford's hall of fame.
Despite West Ham's impressive progress in the top flight since promotion last season, which saw them arrive at Old Trafford sitting in eighth position, manager Sam Allardyce's last experience at this stadium was to be on the wrong end of a 7-1 defeat in one of his final games as Blackburn manager in November 2010.
His two victories at Old Trafford with Bolton, in 2001 and 2002, are fading memories, so the home side's breathtaking start would have sparked fears in the West Ham dugout of another long and miserable 90 minutes against United.
West Ham had barely touched the ball before Van Persie claimed his 12th goal of the season – ending his three-game goal 'drought'.
The Dutch forward, whose presence at United has transformed the team's attacking output since his £22m summer arrival from Arsenal, brings more than a predatory instinct to the forward line.
His movement, reliability and goals, ensure that Wayne Rooney no longer shoulders the burden of expectancy.
Where Rooney sometimes struggled to live up to the hype, Van Persie appears to grow with it.
His goal was nothing special, yet they all count and it banished the prospect of United having to chase the game after conceding the first goal once again.
West Ham were simply caught out by the urgency of United's start, with Allardyce's defenders back-pedalling as Michael Carrick threaded the ball through to Van Persie, whose left-foot strike deflected off defender James Collins and into Jussi Jaaskelainen's net.
It was the quickest goal in the Premier League this season and the fastest at Old Trafford since Ruud van Nistelrooy scored after 30 seconds against Southampton in December 2001.
West Ham responded well, however, and captain Kevin Nolan, a goalscorer in both of Bolton's victories at Old Trafford under Allardyce, almost equalised on 11 minutes when he diverted Matt Taylor's free-kick into the side-netting.
United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard was then forced to save a Taylor cross, which had evaded a host of bodies in the penalty area, before Andy Carroll sent a left-foot volley over the bar on 27 minutes.
West Ham's attacks were sporadic, though, with United controlling the game.
Anderson and Tom Cleverley, both guilty of inconsistency this season, excelled in midfield, with the Brazilian, in particular, troubling the visitors with his attacking forays.
The home side's dominance remained unchecked in the second half, but an inability to make it count once they entered the final third left United vulnerable to conceding on the counter-attack.
Not that West Ham threatened to punish them, with the ineffective Carroll subjected to the mirth of the crowd when replaced by Carlton Cole on 62 minutes.
However, the anxiety that comes with a one-goal lead was tangible inside Old Trafford, with the home supporters chanting 'Attack, Attack, Attack' in an effort to inspire the second goal which would secure United's victory.
United tried to respond, but Jaaskelainen was proving tough to beat, with the Finn saving well from Van Persie and Anderson.
But the goalkeeper saved his best to deny Rooney when, on the hour and at full stretch, he pushed the forward's curling strike around the post.
As news came through of Manchester City's goals against Wigan at the DW Stadium there was a small murmur of nerves around the stadium, however, with West Ham rarely capable of getting close goal, the chances of United's lead at the top of the table being reduced were minimal.
Cole's introduction at least gave West Ham more of a cutting edge. But they lacked the imagination to create good enough opportunities to haul themselves level and United, as flat as they were, claimed the points thanks to their new talisman.
They are already singing the new man's name. (© Daily Telegraph, London)