Ronaldo strikes to nail Hammers
Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the groove as the Manchester United winger inspired a comfortable 2-0 victory over West Ham on Wednesday.
Ronaldo struck twice in the first half at Old Trafford to take his goal tally to five for the season and finally recapture the form that made him English football's Player of the Year last season.
A sluggish start to the campaign had led to claims that Ronaldo was sulking in the aftermath of his failed attempt to engineer a move to Real Madrid, but this was an encouraging display at last.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson made five changes from the side held to a draw at Everton last weekend, the most notable being the omission of Wayne Rooney at the expense of Carlos Tevez, who was given his first start alongside Dimitar Berbatov in a two-pronged attack against his former club.
Hammers manager Gianfranco Zola, who earned lavish praise from Ferguson in his programme notes, was without the suspended Carlton Cole as the visitors embarked on the seemingly thankless task of trying to arrest their recent slide.
United started brightly as expected with Berbatov coming within a whisker of putting his side ahead inside the opening two minutes. The Bulgarian international swept onto Nani's left wing cross only to see his goal-bound shot somehow deflected over by a fantastic challenge from Matthew Upson.
Nani went close himself moments later and the writing was on the wall for Zola's men, it was just a question of who found the back of the net first in a red shirt.
This honour fell to Ronaldo in the 14th minute and Nani was once again the provider. His pass was meant for Darren Fletcher but avoided him as well as James Collins before finding Ronaldo, who swept home a clinical left-footed shot to reward the home side's enterprising start.
Nani could have doubled United's advantage two minutes later but after twisting Collins inside out with a magical run he saw his angled shot flash agonisingly wide.
Collins was becoming the scapegoat for the Hammers' defensive failings and was left red-faced again on 29 minutes when Ronaldo made it 2-0 with his second goal of the night.
Berbatov took a long pass from Anderson before beating Collins on the byline with a sublime turn and chip and finding Ronaldo for the simplest of finishes.
The Hammers' problems got worse before the interval when Valon Behrami was stretchered off with what looked like being a serious knee injury after falling awkwardly without a United player close to him.
With Luis Boa Morte replacing him but showing little appetite for the fight, it seemed only a matter of time before United emphasised their superiority with more goals.
Only over exuberance from Tevez, Ronaldo and Nani prevented this from happening. The closest Zola's team came to providing Tomasz Kuszczak with something to do was when Craig Bellamy's ambitious free kick drifted over the crossbar with over an hour of the game gone.
Even the arrival of Rooney with 20 minutes remaining failed to see United increase their lead.
The England star tried his best to keep his impressive scoring run going, unleashing a powerful drive that forced Robert Green into a hurried save before curling a delightful shot just wide as the one-way traffic continued right to the death.