Giggs’ accomplishment

Ryan Giggs’ winner made him the only player to have scored in every Premier League season since the competition’s inaugural campaign of 1992-93. The 35-year-old will take more pride in a goal that delivered Manchester United’s eighth consecutive league victory, writes Kevin McCarra.

Manchester United, with their heritage of panache and romance, are unlikely number crunchers. The statistics they now churn out are relentless, though, and rivals have been cracking up in the effort to keep pace. This was their fourth 1-0 win in 2009 alone. There is much to respect in the outstanding technique exhibited by so many of their players. If exuberance shows up less frequently these days, a scrupulous United have established a two-point lead in the Premier League , with a game in hand, and look virtually impregnable.

Nonetheless the goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar did not get to hog all the statistical glory after a 13th consecutive clean sheet in the league that sets a new British record. Ryan Giggs’ winner made him the only player to have scored in every Premier League season since the competition’s inaugural campaign of 1992-93. The 35-year-old will take more pride in a goal that delivered his team’s eighth consecutive league victory.

After 62 minutes West Ham tried to break from a United corner but the move broke down and Paul Scholes whipped a pass to Giggs on the left. He cut across a rash Carlton Cole, as well as Scott Parker, before planting a right-footed drive into the far corner of the net. West Ham could make little impact before or after that.

Van der Sar is expert, yet he would readily agree that the outfield players often ensure that any threat is remote. That is uncanny considering that the composition of the back four has varied widely because of injuries. One day it will be intriguing to discover how United respond to the trauma of falling behind in a Premier League game. West Ham impressed while containing the visitors but often a single clear opportunity suffices for United.

In truth, that style would once have been termed continental, with a whiff of disparagement clinging to the adjective. Nonetheless it is United’s mastery of the patient approach that has made them Champions League holders and given them a highly realistic hope of retaining the trophy.

There were areas where all did not seem entirely well but the outcome was still unblemished.

Giggs, for instance, had been on the right, despite the fact that he has really thrived, as he did in the 3-0 drubbing of Chelsea, in a playmaker’s role. His accomplishment cannot go unnoticed wherever he happens to be and it is probable that he will become a Premier League winner for the 11th time in this campaign. His side leaves nothing to chance.

The United method is to exhaust teams and then defeat them. There is such confidence in the passing that the opposition’s lungs burn as they chase after the ball that is being withheld from them. Sometimes the United display appeals more to coaches than spectators.

Domination was carefully established but United were not particularly incisive. It took a set piece for the visitors in the 31st minute to kindle excitement. Giggs cut it back from the right and Cristiano Ronaldo redirected Scholes’ shot. The West Ham goalkeeper Rob Green tipped the attempt behind.

Opponents now worry, with good cause, that they are merely delaying a United goal. West Ham wished to offer more than that but openings were scarce. When, with 13 minutes gone, Cole was released by Mark Noble, the striker attempted a fanciful chip despite the fact that the Dutchman was not very far from his line. The save was simple.

Cole was among those being watched by the England manager, Fabio Capello. It is a stiff test, all the same, for any striker to make a good impression against United. West Ham still took a degree of pride in their showing.

It has to be borne in mind that this side were until quite recently viewed as relegation candidates. The club, too, was supposed to be in some sort of turmoil.

Gianfranco Zola has excelled to silence such talk and he can talk plausibly about progress to come for the side.

A fourth league win in a row at Upton Park had not seemed probable. Even so, West Ham were solid for the most part and Zola’s management is effective. His centre-back James Collins typified the competitiveness of the line-up. He dealt with the conventional attacks and players such as the centre-forward Carlos Tevez were stifled.

All the while, however, there was a suspicion that United had the means to make a breakthrough eventually.

With rivals such as Liverpool, Aston Villa and Arsenal still to come to Old Trafford in the league, United need to show authority on their own pitch just a few more times to extinguish any hope for the challengers.


February 8: Tottenham 0 drew with Arsenal 0; West Ham 0 lost to Manchester United 1 (Giggs 62). Half-time: 0-0.

February 7: Blackburn 0 lost to Aston Villa 2 (Milner 27, Agbonlahor 90+1). Half-time: 0-1; Chelsea 0 drew with Hull 0; Everton 3 (Arteta pen-40, Jo 49 & pen-90+4) bt Bolton 0; Half-time: 1-0; Manchester City 1 (Bellamy 51) bt Middlesbrough 0. Half-time: 0-0; Portsmouth 2 (Nugent 62, Hreidarsson 78) lost to Liverpool 3 (Aurelio 69, Kuyt 85, Torres 90+2). Half-time: 0-0; Sunderland 2 (Jones 78, Healy 90+4) bt Stoke 0. Half-time: 0-0; West Brom 2 (Fortune 4 & 73) lost to Newcastle 3 (Duff 2, Lovenkrands 9, Taylor 41). Half-time: 1-3; Wigan 0 drew with Fulham 0.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009