West Ham 0 Manchester United 4: Carrick fills defensive role but insists: 'I'm no Rio Ferdinand'

By Matt Barlow for the Daily Mail

There could have been no better day for Michael Carrick to make his debut as an emergency defender.

Back at his first club on a charity day in memory of Bobby Moore, the home crowd applauded him warmly before the game.

To make him feel at home, West Ham's head chef revealed Carrick's favourite sausage and mash recipe in the matchday programme and recalled how the young Geordie would ask for extra portions to take home and heat up.

Wayne Rooney

International colleagues: Green saves at the feet of his England team-mate Wayne Rooney

As if that were not enough, Gianfranco Zola's strikeforce went easy on him, too. 'I'm not exactly the new Rio Ferdinand,' said Carrick, aware that it might be a different proposition if he is still in Manchester United's back four against Wolfsburg's Edin Dzeko tomorrow.

Or on Saturday, when Emile Heskey, John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor roll into Old Trafford.

Franco and Michael Carrick

Makeshift defender: Carrick came on for Gary Neville in the second half

'It was the first time I've played there in my life but I really enjoyed it,' he added.

'It's strange how things go. You go through long periods saying what a strong squad we have and how there's competition for places in every position.Then all of a sudden there's a few injuries in one position and he has to start drafting people in.

'It's not a normal situation but when I'm called upon, I'm happy to play in any position. It's different surroundings and a whole different perspective on the game. You're not involved as much. Maybe it will help my defending when I'm back in midfield.'

Carrick had started among the substitutes but was plunged into his new role when Gary Neville pulled up with a groin injury in the first half.

Sir Alex Ferguson said: 'We put Michael on the bench to cover us in the event of anything happening to the back four. He has the height, the composure, the pace and experience to play there.'

To compound Ferguson's defensive problems, Wes Brown limped off in the final seconds, leaving United to see out the game with a back four of Darren Fletcher, Carrick, Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs.

Nemanja Vidic, ruled out with a cold, expects to be back in the Champions League game against Wolfsburg but, with United through to the last 16 of the competition, Saturday's game against an in-form Aston Villa is of most concern.

'Losing defenders the way we are at the moment is a bit of a headache,' said Ferguson. 'I'm hoping Nemanja will be OK for Wolfsburg and I'll probably play Michael Carrick with him in defence.'

There are knock-on effects from United's casualty list.

Ferguson was forced to sacrifice Fletcher's midfield presence and it also meant another chance for Darron Gibson, who scored United's second with his third long-range strike in five days and must be conjuring mental images of a young Bobby Charlton for older United fans.

Ryan Giggs

Welsh wizard: Giggs set up Gibson's goal against West Ham

The Republic of Ireland international scored twice from distance against Tottenham in the Carling Cup quarter-final and his goal at Upton Park was delightful.

Ryan Giggs tore at West Ham before rolling a pass to his right where Gibson arrived, stroking the ball with a touch of fade past Robert Green from 25 yards.

'It was better than the goals against Spurs and a better celebration so I'm happy with that,' said Gibson, who hit the corner flag with an effort in the first half.

'It was a massive boost for me to start. My two goals in the week got my confidence up and the gaffer's stuck by me.'

Paul Scholes had made the breakthrough for United just before half-time, collecting a poor headed clearance from Danny Gabbidon, evading a feeble challenge from Radoslav Kovac and lashing a half-volley beyond Green.

FERGIE'S NEXT LINE OF DEFENCE

Sir Alex Ferguson's defensive crisis is badly timed because his team go up against highly-rated Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko in the Champions League tomorrow night. If Nemanja Vidic doesn't return, Ritchie de Laet may be given a chance. The 21-year-old Belgian, signed for £100,000 from Stoke, has made just one Premier League appearance. The players missing or forced off through injury at West Ham were: Edwin van der Sar (knee), Gary Neville (groin), Vidic (flu), Rio Ferdinand (calf), Jonny Evans (calf), John O'Shea (thigh), Rafael (leg), Fabio (groin), Wes Brown (leg), Owen Hargreaves (knees). Likely defence against Wolfsburg: Kuszczak; Fletcher, Vidic or De Laet, Carrick, Evra.  

It was Scholes' 99th Premier League goal and his all-round midfield display made his pre-match comments about possible retirement at the end of the season seem premature.

Green was sick to the point where he was throwing up on the pitch in the second half and eventually had to be replaced, but there was no mercy from the champions. Gibson made it two, then Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney added goals three and four.

Both of them were crisp, stylish passing moves down the flanks, followed by low crosses and simple finishes.

Alessandro Diamanti apart, West Ham had surrendered meekly, a serious worry for Zola with his team hovering just above the relegation zone and games at Birmingham and Bolton next.

'Those are the games that will really make a difference for us,' said Zola.

'We have to forget quickly about this game because they are on a different level to us. We can't compete with them right now. I will not criticise my players. They played the game the way they were asked and their commitment was fantastic.'

West Ham United(4-4-2): Green 5 (Kurucz 73min, 4); Spector 5, Tomkins 5, Gabbidon 5, Ilunga 5; Collison 5, Kovac 4 (Dyer 67, 4), Parker 6, Stanislas 6; Franco 5, Hines 4 (Diamanti 46, 6).

Manchester United(4-5-1): Kuszczak 7; Fletcher 6, Neville 6 (Carrick 33, 6), Brown 7, Evra 7; Valencia 7, Gibson 7 (Berbatov 67, 5) , Scholes 7, Anderson 6, Giggs 8; Rooney 7 (Owen 73, 4). Booked: Scholes.

Man of the Match: Ryan Giggs.

Referee: Peter Walton.


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