LONDON, February 8 – Sir Alex Ferguson saluted Manchester United's old stagers after his side returned to the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 win at West Ham on Sunday.
Ferguson picked veteran midfielders Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes for the testing trip to Upton Park because he wanted as much experience as possible against the in-form Hammers.
His decision was vindicated as Giggs scored the second half winner, while Scholes gave a typically industrious and intelligent display.
Another of Ferguson’s old-guard – goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar – was also in the spotlight as he set a new British league record for minutes without conceding a goal.
"Obviously the cleansheets are going to be a topic but we haven’t changed the emphasis of our game. I thought we had some fantastic possession of the ball," Ferguson told Sky Sports.
"We felt we should have our most experienced players because this has always been a difficult ground for us. Ryan and Paul Scholes have been here so many times, they know the temperament you need. Carrick, Tevez and Ferdinand are former players here as well and that really helps. It is a fantastic atmosphere, they really get behind their team, so we’ve beaten a very good team."
This was United’s 13th successive cleansheet and his side are fast becoming experts at grinding out 1-0 wins, but Ferguson insists he hasn’t sacrificed the club’s purist principles.
"The players we have on the pitch are attackers. Cristiano (Ronaldo), Dimitar (Berbatov), Carlos (Tevez) and Ryan (Giggs)," he said.
"What the back four really do is focus and concentrate on their jobs. They’ve got patience and they are quick and of course the goalkeeper is fantastic. I’m proud particularly for Edwin. At his age he has achieved everything. You can see the way they are motivated by the cleansheets. It has given us an extra edge."
Giggs has now scored in each of his 17 seasons in English league football and is the first player to reach that mark. He insisted it was an even more memorable moment as the goal came with his right foot.
"I suppose it’s even better because it was with my right foot. I normally get a right-footer and a header each season. I’m just happy to score the winning goal," he said.
"I’ve said before if you get cleansheets, we’ve got players who will score goals. We’re not given much away at the back and we know we’ve got players to create chances. Edwin and the lads at the back have been brilliant.
"I hope we are hitting form at the right time. We’ve got players coming back from injury and after the international break we’ll have players back. We’ll need them with the Champions League, FA Cup and league games coming up."
West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola said there were positives for his team.
"It’s a good sign that it’s been a close game – our goalkeeper (Robert Green) made only one save," said the Italian.
"But that’s the difference when you play the best team in the world – make one mistake and it’s costly. I’m very happy with the performance from my players – Manchester United defended very well."