Rooney took his run of goals to 19 in his last 19 matches in a fine display
By Sam Lyon
Wayne Rooney took his goal tally to 27 for the season as Manchester United saw off West Ham to move to within a point of Premier League leaders Chelsea.
The in-form frontman opened the scoring with a firm header from Antonio Valencia's excellent volleyed cross.
And another Valencia cross was headed home by Rooney for the hosts' second, before substitute Michael Owen clipped a late third from Paul Scholes's pass.
West Ham battled bravely, but fell away in the face of Rooney's brilliance.
It was another sensational performance from the England forward, and one that rendered a Hammers display full of spirit, if lacking in final-third quality, pointless.
Still, the visitors need feel no shame in failing to find a way to stop Rooney at Old Trafford - they are by no means the first this season - and how national coach Fabio Capello will be hoping his key striker maintains this form up to and through the World Cup this summer.
The thought of where Manchester United would be this term without Rooney must at times send shivers down the spines of their fans, and once again the striker was the hosts' inspiration, his touch and movement first class, and his form in front of goal simply unstoppable.
It was he who almost single-handedly dragged the hosts out of a lacklustre opening to near domination as the game dragged to a close.
On the back of Saturday's defeat by Everton, and perhaps with half an eye on Sunday's Carling Cup final against Aston Villa, Sir Alex Ferguson made five changes, with the likes of Ben Foster, Anderson and Darron Gibson brought in from the cold.
However, the changes served only to produce a disjointed first-half display and, but for Rooney, West Ham may have taken advantage.
Playing on the counter, the visitors went close when Valon Behrami lashed wide after being played in by Alessandro Diamanti, while the Italian almost embarrassed Foster in the home goal when his deflected shot was parried down onto the goal line by the keeper.
At the other end, Valencia should have done better when his air-shot inside the box allowed a good chance to go awry in the opening 10 minutes, before Robert Green produced a smart double stop from the winger's shot and Dimitar Berbatov's flicked follow-up.
But as the game neared the break, the Hammers appeared more than comfortable - that is until Rooney's goal-scoring intervention.
It was a marvellous move. Berbatov collected Ji-Sung Park's pass and crossed for Valencia, who volleyed expertly into the six-yard area where the unmarked Rooney slammed home a header.
That lead was almost doubled seconds into the second half when Park rattled the crossbar from Valencia's low cross, and yet there was still a feeling that West Ham were in it if they could get the dangerous Carlton Cole and Diamanti on to the ball.
But the hosts effectively settled the game on 55 minutes, Valencia - a close rival for the man-of-the-match award - again the provider from the right for Rooney to head past the sprawling Green.
West Ham, on the back of two Premier League wins for the first time in nearly a year, refused to compromise their footballing approach and continued to probe at the Manchester United backline.
But with the returning Nemanja Vidic marshalling the defence brilliantly, clear-cut chances were very much at a premium for the Hammers.
And as it turned out it was another England striker who put the match firmly to bed in the 80th minute, Owen dashing on to Scholes's pin-point pass and chipping over Green's dive and into the net.
West Ham were aggrieved that play was not stopped in the build up to the goal with Mark Noble lying injured, but referee Alan Wiley was unmoved as Owen raced clear to fire into the corner.
There was still time for Scholes to fashion a chance for a fourth, only for the midfielder to blast high and wide from 16 yards out.
A fourth would have been harsh on the visitors, though, and West Ham will now look ahead to their potentially crucial six-pointer against relegation rivals Bolton at the weekend.
Ferguson, meanwhile, will comfort himself with the knowledge that while his side are looking to win the league cup for a fourth time in their history, they cannot fall any further than four points off the Premier League summit with 10 matches left in the campaign.
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson: "We had to win and we did that. In the second half, especially, we played some really good football and it could have been more.
"But we're happy with the three points. Wayne Rooney was magnificent again. They were two excellent headers, although there was also some good play from Antonio Valencia.
"Now there will be changes on Sunday (for the cup final). I have done that all along in the competition and I will have to look at the situation to make sure we have a fresh team."
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola: "We played some good football and looked like we were in the game for most of the first half, but after that we did not play as well.
"Manchester United are a fantastic team and we could not live with them. We probably played them at the wrong time after their defeat on Saturday and, in Rooney, they have a player who turns everything to gold. He is one of the most complete strikers in the world.
"Now we look ahead to the game against Bolton, which is absolutely massive for us."
90:00+3:11 The final whistle goes and the game is over.
89:07 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Mark Noble from the left by-line, save by Ben Foster.
88:59 . Mido takes a shot. Nemanja Vidic gets a block in.
86:48 Free kick awarded for a foul by . Mido on Nemanja Vidic. Darron Gibson takes the free kick.
86:10 Shot from deep inside the area by Paul Scholes goes over the bar.
85:40 Jack Collison concedes a free kick for a foul on Ji-Sung Park. Darron Gibson takes the direct free kick.
83:44 The ball is sent over by . Mido, clearance made by Nemanja Vidic. Radoslav Kovac takes a shot. Save by Ben Foster.
82:30 Inswinging corner taken left-footed by . Mido, Matthew Upson produces a left-footed shot from close range that goes over the
81:40 Shot from just outside the box by . Mido misses to the right of the goal.
79:52 The assist for the goal came from Paul Scholes.
79:52 GOAL - Michael Owen:Man Utd 3 - 0 West Ham Michael Owen fires in a goal from inside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Man Utd 3-0 West Ham.
78:23 Jonathan Spector fouled by Antonio Valencia, the ref awards a free kick. Robert Green takes the free kick.
77:22 Substitution Mame Diouf joins the action as a substitute, replacing Wayne Rooney.
77:22 Substitution (Man Utd) makes a substitution, with Michael Owen coming on for Dimitar Berbatov.
75:43 Paul Scholes takes the free kick.
75:43 Booking Booking for Julien Faubert for unsporting behaviour.
75:37 Free kick awarded for a foul by Julien Faubert on Dimitar Berbatov.
74:09 Substitution Kieron Dyer on for Alessandro Diamanti.
72:46 The ball is crossed by Ji-Sung Park.
70:01 Handball decision goes against . Mido. Wes Brown restarts play with the free kick.
69:18 The referee gives a free kick against Julien Faubert for handball. Nemanja Vidic takes the direct free kick.
67:52 Alessandro Diamanti takes a shot. Save by Ben Foster.
67:26 The ball is sent over by Gary Neville, Matthew Upson manages to make a clearance.
65:27 Corner crossed in by Antonio Valencia.
64:05 Paul Scholes takes a shot. Save by Robert Green.
62:20 Substitution Jack Collison on for Valon Behrami.
59:55 A cross is delivered by Valon Behrami.
59:21 Curled right-footed shot by Wayne Rooney. Clearance by Julien Faubert.
58:39 Unfair challenge on Carlton Cole by Nemanja Vidic results in a free kick. Alessandro Diamanti delivers the ball from the free
kick left-footed from right channel, Ben Foster makes a comfortable save.
58:17 Darron Gibson takes the inswinging corner, clearance made by Carlton Cole.
57:43 Corner taken by Darron Gibson from the left by-line to the near post, Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Carlton Cole gets a block
56:35 Corner from right by-line taken by Alessandro Diamanti.
55:55 Corner taken by Alessandro Diamanti, Nemanja Vidic manages to make a clearance.
54:05 The assist for the goal came from Antonio Valencia.
54:05 GOAL - Wayne Rooney:Man Utd 2 - 0 West Ham Wayne Rooney finds the back of the net with a headed goal from close in. Man Utd 2-0 West Ham.
54:04 A cross is delivered by Antonio Valencia,
52:23 Wayne Rooney challenges James Tomkins unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Robert Green.
51:36 Outswinging corner taken by Darron Gibson.
50:25 Dimitar Berbatov is penalised for a handball. Radoslav Kovac restarts play with the free kick.
49:35 Effort on goal by Carlton Cole from just inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.
46:42 Alessandro Diamanti takes a inswinging corner to the near post, Gary Neville manages to make a clearance. Corner from the
right by-line taken by Alessandro Diamanti, Valon Behrami produces a right-footed shot from inside the area that goes over
45:56 A cross is delivered by Gary Neville.
45:21 Ji-Sung Park takes a shot.
45:01 The second half kicks off.
45:01 Substitution . Mido on for Guillermo Franco.
45:00+3:04 The referee blows for half time.
45:00+2:43 The ball is crossed by Julien Faubert, save made by Ben Foster.
45:00+1:12 Darron Gibson gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Valon Behrami. Direct free kick taken by James Tomkins.
44:48 Alessandro Diamanti decides to take a short corner. A cross is delivered by Alessandro Diamanti, clearance made by Darron
43:50 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Dimitar Berbatov by Radoslav Kovac. Direct free kick taken by Paul Scholes.
43:13 The offside flag is raised against Ji-Sung Park. Robert Green takes the free kick.
42:22 Foul by Carlton Cole on Ji-Sung Park, free kick awarded. Patrice Evra takes the direct free kick.
41:46 Shot by Wayne Rooney from outside the box goes high over the crossbar.
41:02 Corner from the left by-line taken by Darron Gibson, clearance made by Radoslav Kovac.
40:31 A cross is delivered by Wayne Rooney, James Tomkins makes a clearance.
37:45 The assist for the goal came from Antonio Valencia.
37:45 GOAL - Wayne Rooney:Man Utd 1 - 0 West Ham Wayne Rooney finds the back of the net with a headed goal from deep inside the penalty box. Man Utd 1-0 West Ham.
37:22 A cross is delivered by Julien Faubert, Wes Brown makes a clearance.
36:52 Paul Scholes produces a cross, save by Robert Green.
35:30 Darron Gibson takes a shot. Save made by Robert Green.
35:20 Antonio Valencia crosses the ball.
34:50 Foul by Radoslav Kovac on Ji-Sung Park, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Darron Gibson.
34:00 Darron Gibson takes a shot. Robert Green makes a save. Corner taken right-footed by Darron Gibson from the left by-line, Robert
Green makes a save.
32:15 Darron Gibson takes a shot. Robert Green makes a comfortable save. Gary Neville challenges Alessandro Diamanti unfairly and
gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Mark Noble.
30:24 Unfair challenge on Radoslav Kovac by Dimitar Berbatov results in a free kick. Free kick taken by James Tomkins.
29:56 Foul by Guillermo Franco on Nemanja Vidic, free kick awarded. Patrice Evra restarts play with the free kick.
28:06 Free kick awarded for a foul by Paul Scholes on Guillermo Franco. Free kick taken by James Tomkins.
26:57 Antonio Valencia challenges Matthew Upson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Matthew Upson takes the direct free kick. Free
kick awarded for a foul by Matthew Upson on Dimitar Berbatov. Free kick taken by Wes Brown.
26:39 Dimitar Berbatov is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Robert Green takes the free kick.
25:12 Antonio Valencia takes a shot. Save made by Robert Green. Shot from just outside the box by Darron Gibson misses to the left
of the target. Dimitar Berbatov takes a shot. Save by Robert Green.
24:04 Mark Noble challenges Dimitar Berbatov unfairly and gives away a free kick. Darron Gibson takes the free kick.
23:06 Julien Faubert produces a cross, Nemanja Vidic makes a clearance.
20:29 Shot by Alessandro Diamanti. Save made by Ben Foster.
19:14 Valon Behrami has an effort at goal from just inside the box that misses to the left of the goal.
18:02 Direct free kick taken by Robert Green.
18:02 Substitution Ji-Sung Park on for Oliveira Anderson.
18:02 Handball by Wayne Rooney.
14:11 Effort on goal by Carlton Cole from just outside the area goes harmlessly over the target.
13:25 Jonathan Spector concedes a free kick for a foul on Gary Neville. Free kick taken by Wes Brown.
12:52 The ball is delivered by Wayne Rooney, Robert Green makes a comfortable save.
11:11 Carlton Cole challenges Wes Brown unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Wes Brown.
9:22 The referee penalises Dimitar Berbatov for handball. Free kick taken by Robert Green.
8:34 The ball is sent over by Julien Faubert, Wes Brown makes a clearance.
4:54 Carlton Cole crosses the ball, Nemanja Vidic makes a clearance.
3:57 Foul by Antonio Valencia on Jonathan Spector, free kick awarded. Robert Green takes the direct free kick.
2:18 Free kick awarded for a foul by Mark Noble on Wayne Rooney. Free kick taken by Paul Scholes.
1:47 Unfair challenge on Robert Green by Dimitar Berbatov results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Robert Green.
0:40 The ball is delivered by Darron Gibson, comfortable save by Robert Green.
0:00 The match begins.
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