Last updated : 18 December 2006 By Ed

The Guardian

This match hurled both clubs into the past although it was only West Ham who were delighted to find themselves there. The victors, with Alan Curbishley in charge for the first time, were once more the capable team they had been last season. Manchester United, however, had to relive the years in which a lack of ruthlessness has kept them out of contention.

While Sir Alex Ferguson's team continue to lead the Premiership, that position has a more provisional air today. As someone put it whimsically, everything is now in Chelsea's hands since they have only to win all their remaining fixtures to keep the title. That was just a flippant remark, considering all the unguessed at events still to engross us, but it did reflect the fact that this was a significant day.

Chelsea pulled off a spectacular recovery at Everton, whereas United shrank in stature once West Ham had gone in front. It has been a paradox that the Old Trafford club are comfortably the most prolific Premiership scorers, when they lack a six-yard box scavenger. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was eventually introduced from the bench but United need a younger version of him, if such a person exists. The veteran Henrik Larsson will have to try to fill the void temporarily.

All the same certain decisions did look perverse. United like to interchange their wingers but the impressive Cristiano Ronaldo ultimately spent too much time on the left. That came as a reprieve to West Ham. On their other flank Paul Konchesky was potentially at risk since. Admittedly Ronaldo almost produced what would have surely have been a decisive goal from the left. In the 56th minute he aimed a low shot that Robert Green turned round his far post. "We've been throwing away a lot of chances away from home," said a pained Ferguson.

It was noble of him not to rail against the referee for refusing a penalty when Anton Ferdinand kicked Nemanja Vidic, unless that had simply slipped the manager's mind because he was preoccupied with United's limitations.

Louis Saha struck good shots in the first half but Green was not tested to the very limit by them. West Ham, in any case, were uncowed even then. Bobby Zamora turned Rio Ferdinand in the 32nd minute but saw his shot blocked by Edwin van der Sar. Body strength had its role in the winner, too, although it depended just as much on the guile of a former United player. Vidic was lured towards the West Ham right, where the substitute Teddy Sheringham stranded him with a smart pass through his legs towards the near post. Ferdinand could not stop Marlon Harewood from rolling him. On this occasion there was no reprieve as Nigel Reo-Coker hit the cut-back into the net.

The Torygraph

Blue was the colour yesterday: infused with claret at West Ham, and soaked with champagne among the Chelsea faithful. Coupled with the champions' victory at Goodison Park, this epic game at Upton Park triggered celebrations in West London, as well as East.

Nigel Reo-Coker's goal shimmered with significance, locally and nationally: not only did it launch Alan Curbishley's West Ham reign in style, but it also ensured United's Premiership edge over Chelsea was cut to two points. Although the bookmakers immediately switched the favourites' status from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge, it is far too early to predict whether Upton Park has once again proved a graveyard of United title ambitions, as in 1995.

Back then, Sir Alex Ferguson described West Ham's work-rate as "obscene", as if the hosts should simply roll over. Yesterday was no different, with West Ham high on tempo, adrenalin and industry. Against Ferguson's formidable Premiership pacesetters, these were points earned with rivers of sweat by West Ham.

Ferguson had recommended Curbishley take the job as Alan Pardew's successor, and Curbishley yesterday showed him why he was worth it. West Ham were unrecognisable from their spectral selves in the last dark days of Pardew's regime.

The West Ham family has been inspired by Curbishley's return as a manager, following his brief playing career. Reo-Coker's strike certainly encapsulated their revived spirit. Any goal would have delighted Upton Park, whose team were 11-2 outsiders to win this, so it was doubly appreciated that the goal was so good. In keeping with the Academy's passing traditions, the ball was worked sweetly between the clever feet of Teddy Sheringham and Marlon Harewood before Reo-Coker applied the coup de grace.

How fitting that it should be the West Ham captain to score. Perceived as a dressing-room Brutus in Pardew's demise, Reo-Coker turned negative headlines into positive ones. If Reo-Coker stole the limelight, West Ham were buoyed by good performances all over the field, from back to front. Robert Green was outstanding in goal, making a series of saves, including an unbelievable left-handed stop from Cristiano Ronaldo. How Upton Park also admired Green's commanding presence under a late bombardment, when even Edwin van der Sar came knocking.

Amid the obsession with Reo-Coker and Curbishley, it will be forgotten that this was a compelling match that Ferguson's side should have drawn. If not as completely effervescent as of late, United still conjured a dozen chances. Yet every time Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney or Louis Saha unleashed an effort, a West Ham body was thrown in the way.

West Ham were swiftly into their stride. Matty Etherington headed wide, Harewood shot over. Then Zamora glided through, effortlessly holding off Rio Ferdinand, but his insipid shot was repelled by Van der Sar. Curbishley added to the sense of urgency, constantly forsaking his seat to patrol the touchline, urging and organising, almost itching to join in.

Curbishley knew West Ham had to concentrate for every second of every minute because of the quality of the opposition. Rooney dropped deep to tease some superb passes out wide. Saha and Ronaldo tested Green in quick succession. West Ham's keeper was immense, keeping out drives from Ryan Giggs and Saha, then a Ronaldo free kick.

Concerned at the lack of a finishing edge, Ferguson emerged from the dugout, arms folded across that Russian submariner's coat, looking as if he had just swallowed a couple of depth-charges. His mood darkened further when Green made that remarkable stop from Ronaldo.

Worse then befell Ferguson's side. Unluckily denied a penalty when Anton Ferdinand appeared to foul Vidic, United then momentarily lost focus defensively in the 75th minute. Sheringham plotted the attack like a chess grandmaster planning a checkmate, threading the ball through to Harewood, whose cross was turned in by Reo-Coker. Belief filled Upton Park.

The Times

Bubbles were blown, joyously so, as West Ham United were roused back to vigorous life by Alan Curbishley yesterday, but it was the blowing of a five-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premiership that was the significant consequence from a wonderfully fluctuating afternoon of pell-mell English football. Manchester United remain top of the table, but they looked far from the assured front-runners of recent weeks as they stalked angrily to their Upton Park dressing-room.

José Mourinho had talked last week of having five months to narrow the gap, but it has closed in five days. There may well be more afternoons such as this, perhaps swinging back United's way, but Chelsea have been most people's favourites even as they have trailed this season and the champions will have enjoyed a massive confidence boost at a time of fitful form.

He may be right in arguing that his team did not deserve to lose, but nor did a spirited West Ham. Gone was the lethargy and self-pity of the last days under Alan Pardew, to be replaced by tireless endeavour. Matthew Etherington, a left winger, was at right back to block a shot from Louis Saha while Marlon Harewood banged into Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand all afternoon. Robert Green also produced the sort of goalkeeping display that explains why he has been capped by England. One diving save to his left to deny Cristiano Ronaldo was the champagne moment on a day that made relegation for West Ham look implausible.

United's finishing could have been more accurate, Ryan Giggs blasting over the bar in a period of sustained pressure after half-time, but West Ham had enjoyed chances themselves. Bobby Zamora was denied by a point-blank save from Edwin van der Sar after knocking Ferdinand to the floor.

It was not a good day for the elder of the Ferdinand brothers, one of several players who will be feeling responsible for Reo-Coker's decisive intervention. Vidic will not want to look at it again after being nutmegged by Teddy Sheringham, a clever use of substitute by Curbishley as he sought to relieve the mounting pressure on his defence. Sheringham's cheeky pass found Harewood, who was allowed by Ferdinand to slide the ball through to the unmarked Reo-Coker. A sidefoot and the West Ham captain, blamed in some eyes for plotting against Pardew, was instantly transformed from villain to hero.

With a busy Christmas period, he and Mourinho will face some big decisions over rotating players and Henrik Larsson was in the crowd yesterday to watch his new Manchester United team-mates for the first time. Chelsea, meanwhile, cannot rely on Didier Drogba to keep producing match-winning goals, particularly one as stunning as yesterday's dipping cannonball.

Coming as Ferguson's players were preparing for the kick-off, it must have been hugely deflating and worse was to come for the travelling hordes from the North West. They will have passed some very happy Chelsea fans heading the other way as they journeyed home.

The Indie

If he could bring himself to joke about it, Sir Alex Ferguson might have suggested to Alan Curbishley yesterday that, after 15 years, the new West Ham manager had picked one hell of a day to record his first victory over Manchester United. Not that there was much to laugh about for the Scot on the afternoon that the title race took another extraordinary twist that proved to be painful for the men from Manchester.

You could not begrudge Curbishley the dream start to his West Ham managerial career as he punched the air at the final whistle, although it was typical for this understated man that, even on this occasion, the day's real winner was elsewhere. He was Jose Mourinho, whose team are undoubtedly capable of playing the most awe-inspiring football in the Premiership, and who can consider his weekend's work with the greatest pride.

Yesterday the Premiership's two leading sides were asked profound questions of their resolve: Chelsea's response, that comeback against Everton, will live long in the memory. For Ferguson's team, the afternoon's events seem only to confuse the picture even more. Are they strong enough to win Ferguson's ninth Premiership title or are they destined to crumble as the great blue machine at Stamford Bridge rumbles ever closer?

Among the guilty are Rio Ferdinand, who will not remember yesterday's performance with any great pride, and Louis Saha, who frittered away enough chances to win the game. The scarcity of options for Ferguson on the bench will have been of greatest concern. Such a pity for him that Henrik Larsson, who travelled with the United party yesterday as a prelude to his arrival next month, was not eligible. The Swede cannot come soon enough.

United ended in disarray, Edwin van der Sar up for corners, Wayne Rooney the last man in defence, picking up possession and desperately trying to gather the momentum for his side to attack. Ferdinand was pitted against Ferdinand and the match-winner was Reo-Coker. Booed at the start for what the West Ham fans regard as his part in Alan Pardew's demise, he was cheered at the end.

On 75 minutes, Teddy Sheringham, applauded on as a substitute by both sets of fans, slipped the ball through Nemanja Vidic's legs to Marlon Harewood at the near post. Once again Rio Ferdinand failed to make a meaningful challenge on the striker and, as he reached the byline, Harewood was able to cut the ball back into the path of Reo-Coker, who only had to roll the ball home from close range.