MANCHESTER, February 24 – Wayne Rooney scored twice as Manchester United kept the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea by defeating West Ham 3-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
United’s sixth successive home league win saw the champions move to within one point of Chelsea, having played a game more, as England striker Rooney made it 19 goals in 19 outings and 27 in all competitions this season.
Substitute Michael Owen added a third 10 minutes from time within moments of climbing off the bench to seal a comfortable win after a sluggish start.
It was just the send-off Sir Alex Ferguson had demanded as the United manager goes in search of his 20th piece of major domestic silverware in Sunday’s League Cup final against Aston Villa at Wembley.
Starting the match four points behind leaders Chelsea, Ferguson opted to bring Ben Foster back in from the cold for a match United simply had to win.
It was Foster’s first start since he was dropped after United’s shock 1-0 Champions League home defeat to Besiktas on November 25.
Fit-again Nemanja Vidic, Darron Gibson, Paul Scholes and Anderson also returned to the side while first-choice stopper Edwin van der Sar did not even make the bench.
But Anderson’s match was cut short inside the opening 20 minutes, the Brazilian going off with a twisted knee which could wreck his hopes of appearing at Wembley at the weekend.
His departure hardly helped United as they struggled to get out of second gear for much of the first half.
The visitors had won only once on their league travels since the opening day of the campaign yet Valon Behrami went close with an effort which flashed across the six-yard area in the 20th minute.
After the 3-1 defeat away to Everton at the weekend, the home supporters were looking for a lift from their team.
But the first half was played out in a largely subdued atmosphere as the hosts struggled to trouble the West Ham defence. It took 26 minutes for United to force Robert Green into his first serious save.
The England stopper blocked a fierce effort by Antonio Valencia only for the ball to fall kindly for Republic of Ireland midfielder Gibson just outside the area.
His effort took a deflection off Dimitar Berbatov and appeared to have wrong-footed Green before the keeper stuck out a leg to save his side from falling behind.
While Rooney and Berbatov struggled to unlock the visitors defence, Gibson’s long range efforts were causing concern.
The United midfielder again went close from 20 yards, his powerful effort turned behind by Green for a corner before Rooney’s breakthrough effort seven minutes before the interval.
Fergie had used his programme notes to lavish praise on Rooney’s form this season and the 24-year-old had his manager applauding from the sidelines as he headed home from eight-yards after connecting with Valencia’s superb volleyed cross.
The goal awoke United from their slumber. Rooney almost doubled the lead moments later with a spectacular long-range effort which landed on the roof of the net as Ferguson’s side finally began to stamp their authority.
United finally took command of the contest as they proved more of a threat in the opening 10 minutes of the second half than they had during the previous 45.
South Korea’s Park Ji-Sung rattled the bar with a right-foot effort within seconds of the re-start.
And man-of-the-moment Rooney put the game out of West Ham’s reach when he pulled away from his marker to meet Valencia’s excellent 55th minute cross to nod past Green.
There was no way back for the Hammers with United having past the nine-and-a-half-hour mark since they last conceded a league goal on home soil and Owen came off the bench to put the result beyond doubt with his first league goal since September – a clinical finish from Paul Scholes’ 80th minute pass.