THE PERSECUTION of David Beckham is obviously unpopular at Old Trafford, but one Manchester United player saw the positive side on Saturday. In ordinary circumstances Dwight Yorke, having become Britain's second most expensive British footballer two days previously, would have been the centre of attention at Upton Park. Instead the eyes of fans, pundits and especially security men were on Beckham as he underwent trial by ordeal.
This proved a blessing for Yorke because, while Beckham largely passed his test, which to West Ham's fans' credit was not as daunting as forecast, Yorke failed to make any impact whatsoever. Played alongside Cole in a central striking position he gave Neil Ruddock less grief than the former porker received from his local publican when he gave up the ale this summer.
Three times he had half-chances and each time the newly svelte Ruddock blocked his shot. The rest of the time he was anonymous and one suspected the only reason Cole was substituted instead in this 1-1 draw was to prevent a series of "Dwight Yorked" headlines.
To be fair, having only been introduced to his new team-mates on Friday, and never having played in the same side as any of them, it was hardly surprising that he was not on the same wavelength. All the same Manchester United did not seem to make the best use of his talents. In the first period, with Manchester looking to counter-attack as West Ham pushed forward with enthusiasm, he found himself chasing long hoofs from Peter Schmeichel against the height of Ruddock and the pace of Rio Ferdinand.
This was less of a problem in the second half as, with Roy Keane dominant, United took control with some neat midfield passing. Yet they remained unable to open up West Ham and the rearrangement of the side to include Yorke did seem a factor. Playing two up played into the hands of West Ham's customary defensive line-up of two markers and a sweeper while moving Ryan Giggs inside to take over Paul Scholes' creative responsibility left the visitors short of width.
Since they should have had a fourth-minute penalty after Ruddock handled Giggs' cross, and soon after carved out a good chance for Beckham from Denis Irwin's cross, this seemed misjudged. Giggs did threaten with his running but, as against LKS Lodz recently, often failed to release the ball.
There is a case for persevering with him in the centre and, with Jesper Blomquist soon fit the width may come from elsewhere, but it would presumably mean Nicky Butt joining Scholes on the sidelines.
On the right Beckham delivered a few useful crosses but is not a byline player. In truth he did not play that well but his test was of character and temperament not performance. He never hid and never reacted though he was often careless in possession and was sometimes provoked into over- ambition.
There were still enough touches of class to ensure Glenn Hoddle, who was at Upton Park, will recall him to the national colours once his two- match international suspension is served.
Taken together United were fitful but still the better side. A similarly patient and secure performance in Poland on Wednesday will be enough to ease them past Lodz and into the serious-money stages of the Champions' League. Jaap Stam, absent injured on Saturday, may be fit, but, even if he is not, Henning Berg played well enough to justify keeping his place. Of greater concern is the possible absence of Gary Neville who was outstanding until he departed with a knock.
Not that Alex Ferguson was happy. He did not speak to written or broadcast press and imposed a similar vow of silence on his players. They were also ordered into extra training yesterday. Proof, if Yorke needed any, that he has now joined a club with a different approach to the bulk of the Premiership.
West Ham's own ambitions seem, well, over-ambitious on this performance but they were limited by injuries. Harry Redknapp has thoughtfully strengthened his side - as the presence of three internationals on the bench illustrated - but they are not quite strong enough however to withstand concurrent injuries to Ian Wright, Paul Kitson and John Hartson (who played but was not fit).
As a result, after 44 goals in 17 pre-season friendlies and another at Hillsborough last week, they were negligible as an attacking force. Schmeichel was seriously troubled just once, after 42 minutes, when he was relieved to see Eyal Berkovic shoot over after he could only parry Frank Lampard's drive.
By contrast Cole may have scored at the far post if not for Ruddock's unseen handball and would have done after 29 and 40 minutes, but for two good saves by Shaka Hislop.
The game, never exciting, gradually dulled to the point where the home support could barely a muster a boo for Beckham. As last week he almost had the last laugh, ex-Spur Teddy Sheringham, their other bete noir, putting a flashing header just over from Beckham's late free-kick. Now that might have caused a reaction.
West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Pearce, Ferdinand, Ruddock; Impey, Lampard, Lomas, Berkovic (Abou, 72), Lazaridis; Hartson, Sinclair. Substitutes not used: Keller, Moncur, Margas, Forrest (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville (P Neville, 53), Johnsen, Berg, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs; Cole (Sheringham, 70), Yorke. Substitutes not used: May, Scholes, Culkin (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).
Bookings: West Ham: Hartson, Berkovic, Lazaridis. Manchester United: Johnsen.
Man of the match: Keane.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies