Premier League – Giggs magic sends United top
The 35-year-old struck just after the hour mark with a piece of brilliance, cutting inside from the left flank, beating two men and finishing low past Robert Green.
The champions increased their consecutive clean sheet record to 13, but were made to work hard by an impressive, industrious West Ham side.
Gianfranco Zola picked the same team for the fourth consecutive match, while Alex Ferguson made three changes – bringing in Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rafael da Silva for Ji-Sung Park, Darren Fletcher and the unwell Gary Neville.
Carlos Tevez received warm applause on his return to Upton Park, but produced a quiet performance and will surely return to his familiar position on the bench when Wayne Rooney returns against Derby County in the FA Cup next weekend.
West Ham showed all of the organisation and resilience that their coaching team of Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke has given them, denying the champions time on the ball and limiting their goalscoring opportunities.
But instead of shooting with power, Cole attempted a cute chip and Van der Sar made a comfortable catch.
A minute earlier, Lucas Neill also came close to ending United’s run of defensive perfection when he volleyed goalwards but, after a brief fumble, the goalkeeper held on to the ball.
Then Jack Collison had a chance, as the young Welshman collected the ball and turned into shooting position, but took one touch too many and Ferdinand eventually scrambled it away.
At the other end, the visitors dominated the statistics but only once genuinely threatened Green’s goal before the break.
Giggs played a free-kick on the right low to Scholes 25 yards out, and he dragged his first-time shot off-target. However, an instinctive sidefoot from Cristiano Ronaldo redirected the ball towards the top corner and Green made a superb reflex save to palm it away.
The goal came when Giggs received a perfect crossfield pass from Scholes on the left, then turned inside beyond two flailing challenges and sent a right-foot shot into the bottom corner through a sea of legs.
It was Giggs’s first goal of the season, and ensured he has now scored in all 19 of his league campaigns.
Thereafter United were comfortable, passing the ball around with Dimitar Berbatov proving an unusually effective defensive influence.
Scholes and Giggs have had to put up with reduced playing time in the twilight of their careers, but they still possess match-winning quality and between them turned one point into three.