Rooney's revival deepens gloom hanging over Grant and Hammers

Manchester United 3 West Ham United 0
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The Independent Football

All's well again in the world of Manchester United, who regained their rightful place in the Premier League's top three on the back of Wayne Rooney's first goal for five months and a display of breathtaking skill and vision from Nani.

The manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, also rightly hailed the contributions of Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov, neither of whom will be gracing Wembley when England face Bulgaria on Friday. Putting club ahead of country will doubtless ensure they remain fresh and fit to enable United to win a trophy or two this season.

For West Ham, the picture is rather bleaker. A third successive Premier League defeat represents their worst start to a season since 1977, which ended with relegation. Having narrowly avoided the drop last season, West Ham's co-owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, dispensed with the bubbly Gianfranco Zola and selected Avram Grant as the man to raise spirits. The fact that Grant had recently presided over a dispirited Portsmouth side which finished adrift at the bottom of the table and almost went out of business didn't seem to matter.

After Saturday's comprehensive loss, Grant was asked about how he was handling the morale of his team. "It is not easy, especially after last season," he said. "The players always talk about that, which I don't like as I don't want them to be traumatised. I said to them at the start, I want to see the character when they are winning and when they are losing."

West Ham's next three fixtures are Chelsea at home, Stoke away and a visit from Tottenham, and the question is how long Grant will be forced to wait before seeing their "character when they are winning". He was also reminded that last season was considerably more traumatic for him in his role as Pompey manager than it was for West Ham's players. "Things were decided off the pitch, not on the pitch, last season [at Pompey]," he said. "This time the decision will be on the pitch. It's a big difference."

But is it? He had earlier replied to a question about the possibility of Robbie Keane coming on loan by saying: "I hope so. He is a player we would like but there is a financial situation here that we need to think about. The team is in big, big debt."

West Ham's financial plight doesn't resemble Portsmouth's, but you have to wonder about Grant's appetite for another season of struggle. "I don't think any team at our level has had such a tough start, all the big teams or most of them at the beginning," he added, not unreasonably. "But this is the fixture list. Anything can happen. We have two weeks to think about everything and become stronger."

Grant chose not to start with any of the six signings he has made since taking charge in the summer and his team fell behind after 33 minutes when Jonathan Spector, the third player he has deployed at right-back in as many league games, tripped Ryan Giggs inside the area. Up stepped Rooney to dispatch the penalty and end a goal drought stretching back over 18 hours and 30 minutes of competitive football, since United's Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich on 30 March. The England manager, Fabio Capello, seated in the directors' box for his third game of the day, nodded in approval.

Nani, producing a performance worthy of his old friend Cristiano Ronaldo, combined with Rooney and Scholes to fire in a powerful second five minutes after the interval and Berbatov's exquisite third, a scissor-kick from Nani's lofted cross, was the highlight of the afternoon.

Match facts

Manchester United 4-4-2: Van der Sar; O'Shea, Vidic, Evans (Smalling, 74), Evra; Nani, Scholes (Carrick, 74), Fletcher, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov (Owen, 74). Substitutes not used Kuszcsak (gk), Hernandez, R da Silva, Valencia.

Booked Berbatov.

West Ham United 4-2-3-1: Green; Spector, Gabbidon, Upson, Ilunga; Faubert (Barrera, 61), Boa Morte (Stanislas, 90); Noble, Parker, Dyer (Piquionne, 75); Cole. Substitutes not used Stech (gk), Kovac, McCarthy, Da Costa.

Booked Noble, Upson.

Man of the match Nani.

Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)

Attendance 75,061.