West Ham United continue to look nervously over their shoulder as February's golden month has given way to the slide of March. David Moyes was able to see his Manchester United team run out comfortable 2-0 winners at the Boleyn Ground, defeating a poor Hammers side who barely bothered David De Gea in the visitor's goal.
The home side were put to the sword by a Wayne Rooney wonder strike after only eight minutes that seemed to indicate the Hammers were due to be second-best and they ought to accept it. When Mark Noble could only divert a cross back to the England forward just after the half-hour -- Rooney obligingly poking home the gift for his brace -- West Ham seemed to give the game up. Sam Allardyce will need to get his team to display more grit and determination in what is now going to be a tough run-in.
It's true that, in Premier League terms, this result will barely register a blip in the record books. However, this season, West Ham's two defeats against the Reds have been a bit more difficult to take; after all, at times in the past West Ham have seriously ruffled Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge, and compared to last season's blood and thunder meetings, this toothless performance by the Hammers was a massive disappointment.
What made the result worse was the fact that Manchester United were seriously depleted in the centre of defence, where Phil Jones partnered former Hammers' midfielder Michael Carrick in a combination that should surely have been susceptible to crosses from Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis, destined for the head of Andy Carroll, with Kevin Nolan following in. In fact, the Reds pair snuffed out every feeble cross, leaving Carroll looking for scraps and Nolan in no-man's land as Manchester struck back quickly on the break, causing the Hammers no end of problems.
Much of the talk will be about Rooney's first goal, of course. Struck from just inside the West Ham half of the field, 56 yards away, the shot dipped and swerved as Adrian attempted to backpedal to his open goal. In fact, the Spanish keeper was left with egg on his face as he seemed to lose the flight of the shot, swerving left and right as the ball bounced in the area and went into the net. David Beckham in the stands was seen to have a huge grin on his face -- as well he may have; his memorable goal at Selhurst Park in 1996 probably has an equal.
West Ham rather petulantly complained that Rooney had fouled James Tomkins as he turned the Hammers centre-half -- but he hadn't -- and sometimes you just have to admire great skill when you see it. Those begrudgingly of the claret and blue persuasion can only hope this is a taste of what England can expect from Rooney in Brazil.
After a bright start, then, West Ham seemed to lose their way and although there was plenty of high ball for Carroll to head down or play back, it soon became apparent that the big forward was not going to unsettle the Manchester defence as he had done last season. This was mainly because of the paucity of the final ball into the area. Downing barely made a contribution worth the name and Matt Jarvis looked even worse when he came on as a substitute in the second half.
Sam Allardyce looked appalled at the quality of the balls being played in, but it has to be remembered that Sam has paid the best part of 16 million pounds for these players and certainly -- in the case of Jarvis at 10 million -- this looks like money that could have been better spent by a club that doesn't have a lot.
If Manchester's first goal was sublime, then the second was laughable. Kevin Nolan appealed furiously for a foul on him in the Reds penalty area, referee Lee Mason rightly waving it away. The ball broke, and seconds later Ashley Young was sending in a powerful cross that found Noble. With little time and space the midfielder put the ball back into the path of Rooney, who ran onto it to divert it past Adrian.
Of significance in the buildup was the way Guy Demel bounced against Rooney as the players funnelled back from the penalty appeal. At the time the brushing of the pair occurred, Rooney was just inside the centre circle in the West Ham half of the pitch. As he celebrated his second goal moments later, Rooney was in the six-yard box and Demel was still five yards away. As an example of doing the little things right, it was a classic example.
Even so, although two goals down at the break, most West Ham fans assumed an attempt to put pressure on Carrick would come in the second half, but it soon became apparent that this was one of those games when the claret and blue would simply curl up and give up, while their opponents could take things a bit easier and rest for games of more importance coming up. Carrick and Jones continued to look like Beckenbauer and Moore and thank their opponents for not asking too many questions of them in a dull second period.
There was probably time for fans to recall when Carrick came through the West Ham Academy ranks, but TV shots of youth coach Tony Carr sitting with another of his protégés, Rio Ferdinand, can only go to show that when things go wrong at Upton Park, they tend to go terribly wrong.
With another game gone and all the relegation contenders losing, this isn't a result that means a great deal to West Ham in the big picture. However, the lack of fight and the absence of ideas just puts further pressure on the team for big games coming up against Hull and Sunderland. You can bet those sides will be looking at this match and rubbing their hands.
It was bound to happen, of course, but this game was crying out for the guile of someone like Ravel Morrison, who would surely have relished the chance to show what he could do against his old club. If, as Sam Allardyce insists, the player released by Sir Alex still has a future at Upton Park, it begs the question why he is showing his unique skills at QPR.
Sam Allardyce has much work to do, then, before the midweek match against Hull City. A similar result and West Ham will be back in the relegation mix and fans will be expecting to have more to talk about than the fact that they were there when Rooney scored that goal.