West Ham Utd 2 Manchester Utd 1: Upson downs United as Ferguson's title hopes receive Hammer blow

Defender's first goal for club puts Tevez in shade while champions pay penalty for Ronaldo spot-kick miss before
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The Independent Online

A fixture that is rarely dull lived up to its reputation yesterday when West Ham, who achieved an improbable double over Manchester United last season, came from behind to beat the champions again with two headed goals in the final 15 minutes.United, forced to do without an ailing Wayne Rooney, took the lead through Cristiano Ronaldo, who then missed a penalty, allowing Anton Ferdinand to put one over his brother Rio with the equaliser before Matthew Upson's first goal for the club.

Sir Alex Ferguson, banned from the touchline, had to sit and squirm high up in the main stand, from where he watched his team pushed further and further back in the final hour of the game by what remains of a West Ham squad depleted by injuries and struggling to win at home. This was only their third such success but Ferguson admitted: "We can't complain. I think they were the better team. I couldn't see it happening. But if you're losing goals at set-pieces, you're not at your best."

In the end, United were some way below the standard expected. Carlos Tevez, around whom all the pre-match publicity revolved, looked as if he would rather have been somewhere other than attempting to beat the team whose bacon he saved with seven goals in 10 games last spring including the decisive one on the final day at Old Trafford.

Other than being involved in Ronaldo's goal, neither Tevez nor Ryan Giggs achieved anything. Louis Saha was never a threat in Rooney's position and although Owen Hargreaves patrolled in front of the back four with his usual diligence, Darren Fletcher could not compensate for the continued absence of Paul Scholes. Lastly, the defence unexpectedly crumbled when West Ham finally went for bust.

Alan Curbishley had set out with a cautious 4-5-1 formation and did not throw Dean Ashton into the mix until the last 20 minutes. The strategy, based on outnumbering United in central midfield, appeared to have been undermined when a glorious chance was missed early on and the visitors scored instead. If Hayden Mullins was unfortunate to strike a post when Carlton Cole's clever touch played him in, Mark Noble failed wretchedly to bury the rebound, striking it high into the crowd.

Punishment was swift. In the 14th minute Tevez controlled the ball expertly in the centre circle and sent Giggs down the left. The run was swift and the cross perfect for Ronaldo to score his 18th goal of the season with a firm header. It was a classic counterattacking goal and briefly put United tails up, Ronaldo once bouncing the ball to a team-mate off his shoulder. West Ham took some time to reassert themselves but once they did, possibilities of an equaliser materialised. Nolberto Solano dipped a shot from 25 yards that Tomasz Kuszczak only just managed to turn over the bar and just before the break Cole might have done better than head Noble's cross over the bar.

Within a few minutes of the resumption, however, both Solano and Scott Parker were forced off by niggling injuries. Each time Curbishley declined the opportunity to bring on a second striker, introducing the young Ghana international John Pantsil in a like-for-like swap with Solano and then Anton Ferdinand for Parker as Jonathan Spector moved into midfield.

Spector had barely settled before conceding a penalty by handling Ronaldo's chip as he slipped over. But to general astonishment the Portuguese pulled his low shot wide.

Tevez made way for Anderson and West Ham finally sent on Ashton for the late assault that brought an unlikely victory. With quarter of an hour to play, Noble was instructed to take a right-wing corner instead of George McCartney and he swung it over perfectly for Anton Ferdinand to head in. Five more minutes and United's defence was again found wanting at a set-piece, Upson heading in Noble's free-kick.

In the end, United were some way below the standards set during 2007, and as a result they end the year knocked off the top of the Premier League tree.

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