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
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
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.
Blue was the colour yesterday: infused with claret at West Ham, and soaked with champagne among the
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
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
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
West Ham were swiftly into their stride. Matty Etherington headed wide, Harewood shot over. Then
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,
Worse then befell
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
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.
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
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:
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
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.