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Man Utd close in on Champions League return with West Ham win

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester United tightened their grip on a return to the Champions League next season as Craig Dawson’s own goal earned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men a 1-0 win over West Ham on Sunday.

Victory moved United back above Leicester into second in the Premier League and closed the gap to runaway leaders Manchester City to 14 points.

Despite also having a game in hand on their local rivals, the Red Devils are unlikely to haul in Pep Guardiola’s men but do now enjoy a nine-point cushion over the fifth-placed Hammers in the battle for Champions League places.

Former United boss David Moyes has failed to win in 15 attempts as the visiting manager at Old Trafford and the Scot was left to rue an overly cautious approach before falling behind early in the second half.

Without the ineligible Jesse Lingard, who is on loan from United, Moyes also dropped Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma as club captain Mark Noble returned with full-back Ben Johnson playing in a more advanced midfield role.

The home side were without the firepower of Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani due to injury, so Mason Greenwood got the chance to lead the line and came closest to opening the scoring in a first half of few chances.

Greenwood’s fierce left-footed shot was brilliant turned onto the post by Lukasz Fabianski as the 35-year-old Pole showed why he was handed a new one-year contract this week.

There was nothing Fabianski could do to stop the only goal as Dawson’s header flashed into his own net from Bruno Fernandes’s corner eight minutes into the second period.

Fabianski produced another fine save to deny Fernandes doubling United’s lead shortly afterwards.

Moyes sent on Manuel Lanzini and Benrahma for the final 28 minutes and West Ham finally came to life as an attacking force.

Jarrod Bowen headed wide a golden opportunity, although he had already been flagged for offside.

As the visitors pushed forward, though, United became more dangerous on the counter-attack and Greenwood smashed against the post for a second time after a lung-bursting run from inside his own half.

An improved defensive record has been key to another season of progress under Solskjaer, which is reportedly set to see the Norwegian rewarded with a new contract.

The hosts held out for a fourth consecutive Premier League clean sheet to close in on the much-needed resources of Champions League football next season after a full year without crowds at their 75,000 capacity home.

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