LONDON (AFP) – Robin van Persie scored the fastest goal of the English Premier League season as Manchester United stayed a point clear at the top with a 1-0 win over West Ham at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
The Dutch forward needed just 33 seconds to give United the lead when, after receiving the ball from Michael Carrick, his first touch eluded Winston Reid before his finish deflected off James Collins and looped over Hammers goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Van Persie’s goal was all the more extraordinary as, prior to Wednesday’s match, United had conceded the first goal 13 times already this season.
“We’ve got the three points and are still ahead in the league,” United manager Alex Ferguson told MUTV.
“It was a hard night and we played a lot of good football but we never quite finished them off. West Ham fought really hard and made it difficult for us.”
United remained just a point in front after reigning champions and local rivals Manchester City, who won 2-0 away to Wigan.
City, the only unbeaten side in the top flight, looked like they might be held to a frustrating draw before striker Mario Balotelli scored his first league goal of the season in the 69th minute.
And three minutes later England midfielder James Milner made it 2-0 with a powerful shot.
“It was important because it’s always a difficult game because they play very well,” City manager Roberto Mancini told Sky Sports
“I think Mario can do better. He scored one important goal but can continue to improve. For me, he did not play very well.”
European champions Chelsea suffered their second straight home goalless draw, under interim manager Rafael Benitez, a derby stalemate with Fulham doing little for his approval rating with the sceptical Stamford Bridge faithful.
Chelsea moved up one place to third but, more significantly, they are now seven points behind United.
“I am a little frustrated,” said Benitez. “The team is well organised and created chances against a team that works hard, so you can see us going forward, but still we have to improve.”
Van Persie’s effort trumped that in an earlier kick-off match of his former Arsenal team-mate Theo Walcott, who took a comparatively sedate 52 seconds to give the Gunners the lead at Everton.
But Everton equalised through Marouane Fellaini 20-yard strike in the 28th minute at Goodison Park.
The draw left Arsenal, searching for their first major trophy since 2005, 12 points off the lead.
Tottenham moved into fifth with a 2-1 win at home to Liverpool.
Aaron Lennon put Spurs ahead in the seventh minute at White Hart Lane after good work by Gareth Bale before the Welshman doubled their advantage in the 22nd minute with a deflected free-kick.
Bale, however, gave Liverpool hope with a 72nd minute own-goal although there was little he could do when Lennon, trying to clear Steven Gerrard’s goalbound header, smashed the ball into the winger’s face.
West Bromwich Albion kicked off in a lofty third place but soon found themselves brought back down to earth as they conceded three goals in half an hour during a 3-1 defeat at Swansea.
Michu and Wayne Routledge (twice) got on the end of Pablo Hernandez crosses before the Baggies pulled a goal back before half-time through Romelu Lukaku.
At the Britannia Stadium, Stoke came from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1.
Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse opened the scoring in the 47th minute before the hosts hit back with two goals inside the final nine minutes from Jonathan Walters and Cameron Jerome as the Magpies suffered their fourth successive league defeat.
Southampton remained in the relegation zone after a 1-1 draw at home to Norwich in referee Mark Clattenburg’s first match in charge since being cleared of racially abusing Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel.
Rickie Lambert gave the hosts the lead at St Mary’s before Saints keeper Paulo Gazzaniga somehow allowed Robert Snodgrass’s free-kick to squirm under his body as Norwich levelled.