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Robin van Persie struck after 33 seconds as Manchester United edged past West Ham United at Old Trafford. But it turned into a nervy evening for the Barclays Premier League leaders, who were below their best. Whilse the visitors were not exactly on top form either on a bitterly cold evening, they came close to snatching a point late on, when Anders Lindegaard denied Carlton Cole from close range.
Van Persie could hardly have made a better start for the home side as the 29-year-old's 12th goal came only 31 seconds into his 18th game. With a side lacking any orthodox wingers, Van Persie checked inside from the left flank, before making his way to the edge of the area as Michael Carrick exchanged passes with Anderson. Van Persie swivelled past Winston Reid as he collected Carrick's forward pass, then profited from a deflection off James Collins that sent the ball looping over Jussi Jaaskelainen and into the West Ham net.
Beaten 7-1 by Blackburn Rovers on his last visit here two years ago, Sam Allardyce must have feared the worst, but his team is far more durable. Captain Kevin Nolan turned Matt Taylor's low corner into the side-netting before Andy Carroll smashed a volley just over Anders Lindegaard's goal. As anticipated, Anderson's second Premier League start of the season provided the hosts with momentum from midfield.
Wayne Rooney was anchored in midfield and struggled to make his presence felt in the final third, as his colleagues Van Persie and Javier Hernandez led the line. The Mexican was responsible for the only other clear chance in the opening period, when Jaaskelainen turned his shot from the edge of the area around a post. Rooney did manage to drive over from 20 yards after taking Jonny Evans' short pass but it was a rare threat to the West Ham defence. It was not until he took aim with a curling shot from the edge of the area did Rooney become a central figure as Jaaskelainen tipped it round. The Finn pushed away Carrick's flick on from the corner, then, as Chris Smalling tried to scramble home, West Ham captain Nolan kept his nerve to clear from a tricky spot.
Ashley Young's arrival did little to relieve the feeling of lethargy creeping into a United side looking to defend their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League and West Ham began to sense they could snatch something. Carlton Cole was introduced for Carroll on the hour and he took advantage of his colleagues’ softening-up of the home defence. When Ryan Taylor screwed the striker's knockdown wide, his reaction was an indication of what a good chance it had been.
Rooney departed 14 minutes from time and the first job for his replacement, Danny Welbeck, was to clear behind from inside his own six-yard box, further proof of what a nervy evening it had become. Anderson's signal to the bench that he needed to come off was not a good sign and before Phil Jones could replace him, Cole came agonisingly close to levelling, but Lindegaard did well to turn away his five-yard effort. It was as near as the visitors came despite some anxious defending from the home side in the final minutes.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "We got a great start. You hope to go on from a start like that and some of our football was very good but we never quite finished them off.
"We have played with the diamond quite a few times this season and done very well so I don't think that is an excuse, but we have got the three points and are still ahead in the league.
"With Chelsea drawing it draws us away from them a little bit further, but, of course, City are on our tails so it is going to be a long season."
"[Rafael] was excellent tonight. He came here as a young kid and was in the first team at 17 or 18. Of course he made a few mistakes because he is such an enthusiastic boy, but he is maturing and learning with that."
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce: "Manchester United have lots of players who will have good spells and can come up trumps when they need them to. Robin van Persie is a quality player and we have largely kept him quiet, but he will score 20 goals for Manchester United, maybe 30. In the end that is normally the difference.
"It is a big problem to concede after 30 seconds, but our response was very good. We didn't create much but we went looking for the equaliser and the best chance fell to Carlton Cole when he didn't quite catch it.
"Whether Manchester United played to their potential or not doesn't matter does it? They still won. They have a nasty habit of doing that."
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