Wayne Rooney scored a goal-of-the-season contender as his brace helped Manchester United cap a memorable week with a 2-0 win at West Ham United.
After Robin van Persie's hat-trick against Olympiacos fired David Moyes' men into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday, Rooney – stand-in captain due to Nemanja Vidic's suspension – gave everyone a timely reminder of his match-winning ability at the Boleyn Ground.
Rooney was employed in a more advanced role due to Van Persie's absence with a knee injury, and the 28-year-old broke the deadlock with an ingenious looped half-volley from almost 50 yards in a goal reminiscent of David Beckham's memorable strike against Wimbledon in 1996.
It was fitting that the former England captain was in attendance to witness the goal, watching from the stands, and Beckham saw Rooney add a second after 33 minutes when the ball fell to him fortuitously eight yards out.
Rooney had the chance to complete his hat-trick nine minutes after the break when he met Ashley Young's cross with a looped header, but United had to settle for the two-goal cushion.
Moyes was able to reflect on a successful week of a hitherto trying first season in charge at Old Trafford, while Sam Allardyce's West Ham are not yet out of relegation trouble, though they remain six points clear of the drop zone in 14th.
The visitors could have moved ahead as early as the third minute when Marouane Fellaini's downward header was cleared just in front of goal by Andy Carroll, but the away fans were soon celebrating Rooney's wondergoal five minutes later.
The England international spotted goalkeeper Adrian off his line and struck an audacious half-volley from almost the half-way line, with the ball looping over the flailing Spaniard before bouncing into the roof of the net.
With the home crowd still stunned into silence, Juan Mata then led a swift breakaway in the 25th minute and picked out Shinji Kagawa on the left, but the Japan international fired straight at Adrian.
West Ham were causing problems of their own from wide areas and captain Kevin Nolan saw his penalty appeal for a tussle with Darren Fletcher waved away in the 33rd minute.
That proved to be a double blow for the home side as, from the resulting counter-attack, Mark Noble cleared Young's cross straight at Rooney, who took advantage of the good fortune with a cushioned side-footed finish.
Nine minutes after the interval Rooney missed the chance to seal his hat-trick when he floated a header wide from Young's cross. The former Aston Villa winger was involved again 11 minutes later as his whipped cross was headed over the crossbar by Fellaini, who was put under pressure by James Collins.
Rooney was replaced by Javier Hernandez in the 77th minute and left the field to a rapturous reception from the visiting supporters, as United comfortably saw out the closing stages.
Manchester United manager David Moyes: "It was a great goal by a top, top player. [Rooney’s] technical ability, his awareness to know where the goalkeeper was in the build-up, you'd have never thought he'd be aware of where the goalkeeper is.
"To actually execute it, to have the power and the ability to drift it in the way he did [was fantastic]. My only worry was the bounce, was it going to go under the bar or not? The goal will take centre stage but I thought our performance was excellent. Shinji, Juan Mata and Wayne were outstanding.
"The only disappointment is we didn't score more goals from the excellent football we had. Shinji had a great chance, Juan Mata had a really good chance. Marouane Fellaini should have scored a header before that as well, so before we scored (the opening goal) we probably should have been ahead."
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce: "It was such a wonderful goal from Wayne Rooney early on. No one expected him to do that, not even David Moyes. But when he did it, it was brilliant
"We pushed and tried to get back into the game, and the game changes in split seconds. We could have had a penalty - the ball's come into the box, Kevin's looking to strike the ball at goal, Fletcher gets across him then they go right up the other end and Mark Noble mis-kicks his clearance and it goes to Wayne Rooney.
"So what could have been 1-1 turned out to be 2-0. It was a shame, it was defining moments that decide it, it went in their favour."
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|06 Apr 2014||v Liverpool (H)|
|15 Apr 2014||v Arsenal (A)|
|19 Apr 2014||v Crystal Palace (H)|
|26 Apr 2014||v West Brom (A)|