United shut out Hammers to reclaim top spot

West Ham 0 Man Utd 1
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The Independent Online

A rare right-footed goal from Ryan Giggs and a rather more predictable 13th consecutive Barclays Premier League clean sheet were enough for Manchester United to reclaim top spot.

In a lacklustre game of huff and puff, with not much else in between, Edwin van der Sar never looked in serious danger of being denied a British record for not conceding a goal that now extends to 1,212 minutes.

But United looked equally unlikely to score either until Giggs stepped inside Carlton Cole, burst into the box and thrashed home a shot that was enough to end West Ham's impressive eight-match unbeaten run at Upton Park and edge closer to the championship triumph that will see the Old Trafford outfit match Liverpool's impressive tally.

Hammers old boys Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick were given warm ovations but Carlos Tevez received an even louder burst of applause in recognition of his efforts in the Eastenders' survival fight two years ago, which continues to cause the Premier League so much grief.

The hosts reserved their usual white-hot atmosphere for a United visit on 'Bobby Moore day', in recognition of a man who will shortly have to share top billing with David Beckham on 108 caps for England.

That appreciation continued once the match started too, as Matthew Upson slid in on Giggs to execute a perfect tackle of which Moore himself would have been proud.

By that point, Giggs had already sliced a volley wide in an encouraging start for the champions that also involved a couple of trademark piledrivers from Paul Scholes, one of which Cristiano Ronaldo turned goalwards, forcing Robert Green to make an impressive save.

A brilliant passage of close control involving Giggs, Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov ended with the Bulgarian lashing a volley goalwards that James Collins found himself accidentally in the way of.

Another move of similar quality brought a Nemanja Vidic shot into the body of the same man and it seemed just a matter of time before United eventually made the breakthrough.

Instead, with Upson outstanding and Scott Parker snapping into a series of tackles in midfield, the Hammers slowly got themselves a foothold in the contest.

If ever there was a man needing to impress watching England coach Fabio Capello, it was Carlton Cole.

Unfortunately, Cole turned like a giant barge as he collected Jack Collison's short pass with his back to goal.

What seemed like a clear shooting chance quickly disappeared as Vidic and Ferdinand converged on the former Chelsea man, who seems set to win his first cap in Seville on Wednesday.

Cole had earlier managed to gain half a yard on Ferdinand to reach David Di Michele's through ball but he is not the first striker in recent times to find van der Sar too big a wall to knock over.

When the 33rd minute ticked by, van der Sar eclipsed the record of old Aberdeen stalwart Bobby Clark, who went 1,155 minutes of league action without conceding a goal during the 1970-71 campaign to claim that British record.

The veteran Dutchman's goal was still intact when Di Michele was crowded out on the edge of United's penalty area and the loose ball fell to a marauding Lucas Neill, whose curling shot probably did not stretch van der Sar enough.

It was a similar story for United, with Ronaldo in particular getting increasingly agitated with his team-mates, John O'Shea receiving one mouthful and even Sir Alex Ferguson getting a passionate response as the Scot made a point to Ronaldo on the touchline.

Yet if the bad temper was taken as a sign United's focus was not fully wired in, West Ham got it horribly wrong.

After Giggs had his corner half-cleared, Scholes swiftly spread the ball back to his long-time colleague.

Cole flew in to make a tackle by the touchline. He failed, as did his Hammers team-mates, who expected Giggs to eventually transfer the ball to his generally lethal left foot. Instead Giggs struck it with his right, beyond a startled Green, and into the net.

Ronaldo, his mind back on the job, watched his thunderbolt effort curl just wide after taking a deflection before Neill's next, wayward, shot allowed van der Sar to edge past Chris Woods and seal a rather complicated British record for minutes without conceding a goal in domestic combat.

As Gamba Osaka scored three times against him in Japan recently and Derby, twice, and Tottenham have found the net in cup combat against the Red Devils recently when van der Sar has not been in goal, it is all rather confusing.

A rather more straightforward statistic is United are back on top again, two points clear of Liverpool, with a game in hand, as they close in on a record that really does matter; 18 league titles.

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