Wayne Rooney continued his rich vein of form by scoring again as Manchester United racked up another four-goal haul away from home.
Another fantastic four for United
LONDON // Wayne Rooney continued his rich vein of form by scoring again as Manchester United racked up another four-goal haul away from home. Having scored a hat-trick in the 4-1 thumping of bottom club Portsmouth last week, Rooney scored again to make it 4-0 after goals from Paul Scholes, Darron Gibson and Antonio Valencia killed off West Ham, who are now only a point above the relegation zone. United, already without Rio Ferdinand, were further weakened at the back when Nemanja Vidic cried off with flu, and then lost Gary Neville after 33 minutes when he appeared to pull a groin muscle.
Neville gestured angrily at the United dugout, where Sir Alex Ferguson was able to return after serving his touchline ban, because United did not have a substitute ready. In the end, Michael Carrick went on to face his former club in an unfamiliar position at centre half. Not that he and Wes Brown had much to do. West Ham were lightweight up front and careless in midfield, while United were equally sloppy in the final third of the field, and apart from a number of shots deflected wide for corners, hardly threatened the Hammers goalkeeper Robert Green.
Scholes struck in first-half stoppage time to open the scoring just as the game looked to be heading for a goalless half-time scoreline. The United midfielder, who hinted this week that this season may be his last because of the frustration of irregular appearances, has always been capable of scoring spectacular goals, and this was one of his specials. Scholes struck the ball on the half-volley from 20 yards, with his less-favoured left foot, and although Green got a hand to the ball, he could not prevent it flying into the roof of the net.
That was not the worst of West Ham's defensive mistakes in the build up to the opener. Gianfranco Zola's side had three opportunities to clear their lines, but each time the ball went straight to a United player. When Ryan Giggs, the opening period's best player, crossed from the left, Danny Gabbidon headed straight out to Scholes, who controlled the ball on his chest, directing it past defender Radoslav Kovac and giving himself the space to shoot.
Yet that was the first shot on target in a first-half that was lively but lacking in quality. Zola made one change at the break, sending on Alessandro Diamanti for the lightweight Zavon Hines, who had struggled to impose himself. Almost immediately, West Ham had a chance when Junior Stansislas chased a long ball forward, but Tomasz Kuszczak saved at his feet, just as Green had done against his England colleague Rooney in the first-half.
As the game opened up, West Ham had their first effort on target when James Tompkins had a free header at the far post from Diamanti's cross field free-kick, but the striker directed the ball straight at Kuszczak. Diamanti then shot at goal with an ambitious free-kick from 35 yards, but the ball flew high over the bar. West Ham were punished just past the hour, when Gibson doubled United's lead. Giggs and Rooney exchanged passes on the left touchline before the Welshman carried the ball towards the centre of goal and laid it in the path of Gibson, who thumped it powerfully into the net from 20 yards, just as he had done twice against Tottenham in the Carling Cup in midweek.
West Ham looked beaten, and it got worse in the 71st minute when Valencia ran the ball in from close range after Rooney's clever pass allowed Anderson to play a low cross from the left. A minute later, Valencia returned the favour when he crossed from the right and Rooney, having started the move, strolled in unchallenged to sweep the ball past Green from close range to make it 4-0. The home supporters started to leave in droves as they booed their side off at the final whistle. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Man of the match: Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn)
Andrey Arshavin was Stoke's tormentor as Arsenal outclassed the visitors at the Emirates. The Russian playmaker scored the first and could have had at least two more as the Gunners had too much for Tony Pulis's men. Arsenal could even afford to miss a penalty and it was not until 12 minutes from time that they made the game safe when substitute Aaron Ramsey fired home the second. Arshavin should have scored after three minutes, but he was thwarted one-on-one by Stoke's goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. On 19 minutes, Arshavin was brought down by Rory Delap. The impressive Sorensen saved Cesc Fabregas's penalty. Six minutes later though, the Russian played a one-two with Fabregas and struck the game's opener. Ramsey struck Arsenal's second and while other teams will make Arsenal pay for such profligacy, Stoke's only attacking threat came from Delap's long throws with the Potters unable to carve out a real chance. Man of the match: Andrey Arshavin (Arsenal)
The Portsmouth striker Aruna Dindane made up for a pitiful penalty miss to help his side to a 2-0 win over Burnley, as Avram Grant picked up his first points as manager. Hermann Hreidarsson fired the South Coast club ahead after 65 minutes, thanks to a brilliant ball from the substitute Kanu. Dindane wasted a spot-kick, after Hreidarsson's apparent dive in the box, and a presentable rebound chance, after half an hour, but made no mistake when he sealed Pompey's third win of the season from Jamie O'Hara's pinpoint cross after 83 minutes. "This was a massive win for us and hopefully it's a the start of something special," Hreidarsson said. Wade Elliott's contact with Hreidarsson in the challenge was minimal, and the Icelandic defender said: "It wasn't [a penalty]. I was waiting for the kick but it never came. It wasn't a dive, it's not what I'm about, but it wasn't a penalty, no." Man of the match: Kevin-Prince Boateng (Portsmouth)
James Milner led a dominant Aston Villa side to victory over Hull, setting up the opening goal for Richard Dunne and scoring himself. Dunne broke the deadlock from a perfectly-weighted pass by Milner, who then added the second after spotting Hull keeper Matt Duke off his line. Of more concern for the visitors was the loss of midfielder Jimmy Bullard, who had to be replaced after 19 minutes due to a knee injury. The 31-year-old, who won the Premier League's player of the month award for November after inspiring Hull to a four-match unbeaten run, has been jinxed by knee injuries in recent years. Villa completed the rout with a late penalty after Ashley Young was brought down in the area by Duke. John Carew, on as a substitute, converted. Man of the match: James Milner (Aston Villa)
Three second-half goals, including two from Sebastian Larsson, saw Birmingham come from behind to secure an away victory yesterday and extend their unbeaten league run to six games. Charles N'Zogbia had curled home a beauty to give Wigan the lead just past the half-hour mark. But in the 60th minute, Swedish midfielder Larsson swung in a free-kick from the touchline which evaded the entire Wigan defence and went in. Just five minutes later, Lee Bowyer played Christian Benitez through on goal who made it 2-1. Larsson then extended the lead in the 71st minute when he curled a free-kick past Mike Pollitt, on for the injured Chris Kirland. Wigan pulled one back in the 87th minute through a Jordi Gomez free-kick that beat keeper Joe Hart. Man of the match: Sebastian Larsson (Birmingham)
Wolves kept themselves off the bottom of the table with this victory over their relegation rivals. With Portsmouth beating Burnley earlier in the day, Mick McCarthy's side knew only a win would be enough to avoid propping up the league. They took the lead through Jody Craddock. The centre-back swept the ball home from close range after Christophe Berra flicked on a free-kick from Nenad Milijas. Having been outclassed in the opening half the visitors improved after the break, but Milijas doubled Wolves' advantage with a stunning goal after 63 minutes. The midfielder latched on to a loose ball, strode forward and lashed a shot beyond the reach of Jussi Jaaskelainen. Johan Elmander ensured a nervous finish when he scrambled in a consolation. Man of the match: Jody Craddock (Wolves)