Belfast Telegraph

Ferguson satisfied as Manchester United work hard for points against West Ham

By Martin Hardy

Manchester United 1 West Ham United 0: Defensive solidarity. It is a new phrase to add to football's vocabulary.

"You have to work on a good defensive unit, on the basis of when you score a goal it is good enough to win you a game." Those were the words of Sam Allardyce, the beaten manager.

His winning counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson concurred. "There is no doubt about that [the importance of 1-0 wins]," he said. "If we can keep clean sheets from now right through to January, more often than we have been doing, it will give us a good foundation to go for the title."

Last night's was only their third in the Premier League this season, as we prepare to enter December. It was their first 1-0 win. They have done it back to front this season, but then the campaign still feels like it is waiting for a team to play like champions.

That might seem harsh, with Manchester United at the Premier League's summit with 33 goals scored, better than any other team in the division, by a distance in fact. And yet the anxious pacing by the side of the field as this game drew to its close was from Ferguson. He will have to learn to trust the current side to bring him those clean sheets. They have done little, as yet, to suggest that is how they will wrest the Premier League crown from their neighbours.

Ferguson had bemoaned the "rescue missions" his side have been forced to go on nine times this season when they have fallen behind in league games. Scoring so early, after 33 seconds, meant that did not happen but from there came the expectation United would show the all-round feel of a team looking to make a statement of intent. It never came.

Credit West Ham in part for that. Lesser teams would have buckled. It was a goal created by a brilliant first touch from Robin van Persie, deftly lifting the ball over Winston Reid, using the pace of Michael Carrick's pass, and it then relied on pure good fortune, his shot deflecting off James Collins and looping over Jussi Jaaskelainen.

To West Ham's credit they did not wilt, but then Manchester United were the diamond that did not sparkle, once again. No one has quite been sure who, with four forwards of such quality to call on, should play where. Wayne Rooney started behind the front pairing of Van Persie and Javier Hernandez, but his performance mirrored that of his side. At times he looked dangerous, never more so than in the 60th minute, when his precise, curling right-footed shot had to be fingertipped by Jaaskelainen, at full stretch, around his far post. At others he was peripheral.

"Defensive solidarity in this league is what is going to win you points in the end," added Allardyce. "It is a long while since Fergie got a nil against him because he seems to have let a few goals in this year."

Ferguson said: "We have got the three points and we're still ahead in the league and, with Chelsea drawing, it draws us away from them a little bit further. It will be a long season."

Pragmatism. It was that kind of evening.

Man of the Match Rafael.

Match rating 4/10.

Referee M Jones (Cheshire).

Attendance 75,572.

Belfast Telegraph

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