Stroll in the sun for Fergie - Hammers swept aside as United line up title

By Ian Ridley

Last updated at 21:21 03 May 2008


Chelsea's worst fears were confirmed. The West Ham who turned up at Old Trafford were not the side who did the double over Manchester United last season or who beat them at Upton Park in December. Instead, they were the ones we have come to know and loathe, who lose heart at the first road sign saying 'The North'.

United duly cantered to victory,

bringing the Premier League winning

post closer into view, and their

stroll of appreciation — rather than

premature lap of honour — around

the pitch at the end of their final

home match of the season would

probably have been of sufficient

pace to see off the indolent, inadequate

London team.

Cristiano Ronaldo high-fives with Rio Ferdinand

Hand it to us: Cristiano Ronaldo high-fives with Rio Ferdinand after scoring their first

Three goals in the first 26 minutes

did more than enough damage, with

Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a brace

to take his total for the season to a

magnificent 40 and his League tally

to 30, and Carlos Tevez netting on the

same ground where he scored the

goal which kept West Ham up a

year ago.

There was a brief rally when Dean

Ashton scored for the visitors, and a

glimmer of a way back when Nani

was sent off for a foolish butt, but so

poor were West Ham that, instead,

they conceded a fourth to Michael

Carrick.

It left the West Ham manager Alan

Curbishley, who once received the

gift of plane tickets to New Zealand

from Sir Alex Ferguson after leaving

Charlton, embarrassed by his

remarks before the game that it

would be an injustice if United did

not win the title and that he would

raise a glass to them. So embarrassed

was he, indeed, that he sent

assistant Mervyn Day to explain

away the team's capitulation.

"If you go in that dressing room,

they are shattered," said Day. "They

might not have been good enough,

but you can't say they didn't work

hard. The one thing I would defend

them on totally is effort.

"Alan thinks a lot of Sir Alex, but

once you cross that white line, that

goes out of the window."

When it came to his own verdict,

the United manager once again knew what he was doing after being

annoyed by Chelsea seizing on

Curbishley's pre-match remarks and

ahead of the title rivals' visit to

Newcastle tomorrow, where Kevin

Keegan's side can do him a favour.

A Newcastle win all but seals it,

given United's vastly superior goal

difference. A Chelsea victory means

United must win at Wigan, where

former United captain Steve Bruce's

side are safe from relegation.

Irony abounds. It was back in 1992

that West Ham helped deny United

the title with what Ferguson

described as "an obscene effort",

then in '95 with a draw at Upton

Park. And the following year, Ferguson

famously dared to suggest that

Leeds needed to try as hard against

a faltering Newcastle as they had

against United, prompting Keegan's

"I would love it" tirade.

"The way Chelsea are talking, they

seem to think it's going to be easy up there," said Ferguson. "I hope Newcastle

do their job honestly, the way

West Ham did today."

In fairness to the Hammers, whose

fans were belting out anti-Chelsea

chants from the outset, they do have

the ready-made excuse of incompetence

to fend off accusations of

something more sinister.

United, too, were energised by the

midweek win over Barcelona and

the prospect of the Champions League final against Chelsea in

Moscow, though there was still the

matter of patchy recent League

form to overcome, last week's defeat

at Stamford Bridge following draws

at Middlesbrough and Blackburn.

Old Trafford was initially twitchy,

concerned that the longer the game

went on, the more fraught it might be.

Such worries were short-lived.

The clock showed only 170 seconds

when Ronaldo received the ball on

the right touchline and, though there

seemed little danger to West Ham,

he conjured a goal. A quick shimmy

took him inside the corpulent Lucas

Neill, dumped on his backside, and

once inside the penalty area, the Portuguese

sent a low shot, via a deflection,

past the dubiously positioned

Robert Green at his near post.

Old Trafford took greater ease

when United doubled the lead with

the game scarcely a quarter old.

Owen Hargreaves crossed leftfooted

from the right, the 19-year-old

James Tomkins could not cut out the

ball and Ronaldo escaped John

Pantsil at the far post to guide it

home off his right thigh.

Barely another two minutes had

passed before the third arrived,

Green's positioning again questionable

as Tevez's shot from 25 yards

flew into the roof of his net. Surely it

couldn't have been gratitude for that

Tevez goal last season?

Usually, a team three down might

be expected to push another man

forward. Curbishley, in fact, pulled

Bobby Zamora back into midfield.

But it yielded an unexpected

return when Zamora clipped a ball

forward from the right and Wes

Brown could only loop up a header

that Ashton met with a splendid

overhead kick that nestled in the

home net.

United's cruise to victory was

interrupted further with Nani's

dismissal — 'immaturity', said

Ferguson later. The Portuguese took

exception to Neill clambering all

over him and rose from the ground

to butt the Australian, compounding

his misdemeanour by then feigning

a facial injury himself. Referee

Mike Riley got the red card right,

though it was difficult to see quite

why Neill received yellow.

Any hopes Chelsea could have had

that a 10-man United might let it slip

from here were dashed early in the

second half, however, West Ham

again proving accommodating opposition.

When Carrick received the

ball in midfield, they simply allowed

him to run unchallenged and his low

shot from 25 yards deflected off

Neill past Green.

There might have been more, the

substitute Darren Fletcher hitting a

post, but United had done more than

enough.

Stewards' inquiry anyone?

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