Rooney rides to the rescue
West Ham 2 Man Utd 4
The song remains the same. Manchester United demonstrated yesterday why Alex Ferguson is still indispensable. Even when serving a touchline ban, the drive of the manager is the defining characteristic of this average Manchester United team.
At half-time, they were two goals down and there were many inside a pulsating Upton Park who felt United should have been a man down as well.
An hour later and United had inflicted another heart-breaking wound on those who challenge them and the West Ham supporters had already begun a sorry march to the exits. Wayne Rooney may not be the man he was, but he certainly has rediscovered the touch of the player he used to be.
Ferguson made one change at half-time but there could have been six. He sent on Chicarito who gave United options, but in these situations United crave heart more than anything else. In Rooney they had the man who now embodies these values, even if he has a few of his own with which United aren't so comfortable.
He destroyed West Ham in a 15-minute spell in the second half which left the home side bewildered. United fans might have wondered also at the mystery of the game, even though they are now experienced in the ways of "football, bloody hell".
In 45 minutes, United demonstrated that their one enduring quality is the ability to push aside the Premier League fodder. It was a familiar story and no surprise just because it didn't seem likely after a desperate first half.
Robbie Keane started on the bench, having stated in the match-day programme that he wants to stay at the club next year if West Ham stay up.
When the half-time whistle went that looked a strong possibility. West Ham had been awarded two penalties and Mark Noble had taken both with great assurance.
Almost as importantly, United looked shambolic. Ferguson's strong bench came as a result of the weakness in the first 11 with only Antonio Valencia doing anything to justify his selection in the first half.
Darron Gibson and Michael Carrick were selected in the middle. Carrick improved as the game went on but when Gibson failed to convert a chance from 14 yards in the second half, even the thing he does consistently well was failing him. In the first the pair had shown the ability to read the other's mind which may not necessarily be a good thing.
Scott Parker and Noble dominated them while Manuel Da Costa was outstanding at the back, making a series of interceptions early in the first half before West Ham had taken the lead.
With Wayne Bridge trembling at left-back every time Valencia ran at him, Da Costa was needed in the middle. But the game was open thanks to United's uncertainty in midfield and the result became more uncertain when West Ham took the lead.
The goal came from a sweeping Thomas Hitzlsperger ball forward. It landed in front of Carlton Cole but Cole seemed unsure of heading straight for goal. By the time he had made up his mind, Patrice Evra was covering but he provided Cole with an out. Cole flicked the ball over Evra's head. Evra put his hand up and the linesman flagged as the ball hit it. Noble kept the penalty low, hitting it to Tomasz Kuszczak's right.
United responded but Da Costa was reading everything.
Nemanja Vidic wasn't and when Cole skipped by him, United could only plead with some justification that the foul was outside the box. Lee Mason had given a penalty and Noble put this one to the other side and drove it into the roof of the net. Chicharito immediately started warming up and Rob Green saved brilliantly from Park Ji-Sung.
West Ham couldn't claim bad treatment from the referee but when Vidic brought Demba Ba down they appealed for a sending off as he was the last man. The ball had run away from Ba so a yellow was probably the correct decision but when Vidic went through Ba again early in the second, he was lucky to stay on.
Hernandez replaced Evra at half-time with Giggs moving to left-back as United showed the adventure demanded, the spirit that Ferguson acknowledged afterwards of going for it.
Rooney certainly was. His first goal was a sweet free-kick from 22 yards that curled around the wall. United didn't celebrate or even put on an ostentatious show of urgency. They knew what was coming.
Within eight minutes they were level. Valencia picked out Rooney on the edge of the box. He stepped away from Matthew Upson, turned in the box and drove a low shot past Green. West Ham were retreating. Parker had been excellent in the first half but now he couldn't keep the ball.
Fabio made a powerful run from the right, skinned Upson who shouldn't have lunged in. Worse was to come when the ball hit off Upson's hand. It looked like he could do nothing about it but having awarded two penalties to West Ham, the referee would have needed Ferguson a lot further away than the directors' box if he had denied United.
Rooney took it and had his hat-trick. West Ham were beaten. Keane came on for Noble but things were getting worse. Chicharito, as he does, was waiting at the far post when the ball slipped through the hapless Upson's legs for United's fourth. United had their points and their comeback. Nobody was in any way surprised.
While United have Wayne Rooney and Ferguson they will always have a chance. Two goals may have been from dead balls but Rooney's appetite drives United and this win was critical as they pursue their 19th title.
NEXT THREE GAMES
Manchester United: v Fulham (h) Apr 9; v Newcastle (a) Apr 19; v Everton (h) Apr 23.
West Ham: v Bolton (a) Apr 9; v Aston Villa (h) Apr 16; v Chelsea (h) Apr 23.
Sunday Indo Sport