Charlie Adam scored twice as Stoke City beat Manchester United 2-1 on Saturday to show the flailing Premier League champions it will take more than one big-money signing to improve their fortunes.
The optimism created by Juan Mata's transfer from Chelsea drained away as United were beaten for the third time in their last five league games, losing ground on rivals Everton, who beat Aston Villa 2-1, and Tottenham Hotspur who drew 1-1 at Hull City.
United, who fielded Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Mata in a mouth-watering forward line, were again undone at the back.
Adam rifled home a spectacular winner in the second half to leave United seventh on 40 points, five adrift of Everton in fifth and four behind Spurs.
Elsewhere, an Adam Johnson-inspired Sunderland recorded a thumping 3-0 win at derby rivals Newcastle United while West Ham United's Andy Carroll grabbed the spotlight as they beat Swansea City 2-0.
Sunderland, who were bottom of the table when manager Gus Poyet replaced Paolo Di Canio in October, moved up to 12th with 24 points after winger Johnson scored his sixth goal in four matches either side of a Fabio Borini penalty and a goal from Jack Colback.
Carroll resumed his double act with midfielder Kevin Nolan, setting up two goals for his former Newcastle team mate before the England striker was harshly sent off for allegedly swinging an elbow at Chico Flores in the 59th minute.
Upon landing, Carroll caught the Swansea defender across the head with his arm.
The contact was minimal but an exaggerated reaction from Chico prompted referee Howard Webb to show a straight red card.
"I don't think you can say it's ridiculous. It's the reaction of player that makes life extremely difficult for the referee. He was squealing and centre halves are not supposed to squeal," West Ham manger Sam Allardyce told reporters.
"It's harsh but I understand why it was given because the referee must have thought his arm smashed him in the face. But fortunately it has not cost us anything."
In their meeting earlier in the season at the Liberty Stadium, Chico rolled around dramatically in a similar manner following a tackle with Carlton Cole, an incident that drew a reaction from Allardyce that day too.
West Ham confirmed they plan to appeal the decision.
"Andy is gutted, he's beside himself but we've just got to go through the appeal process and see what happens," Allardyce said.
Swansea boss Michael Laudrup echoed his counterpart's sentiments regarding the dismissal.
"I thought it was harsh. There are challenges like that every game. For me there's contact but the referee is a very good international and he must've seen the elbow and decided it was on purpose," Laudrup said.
"Maybe (Chico) did make too much of it. I'm not sure if he wanted him sent off, I would have to talk to him. I'm not going to judge players."
Until the red card, Carroll had been a handful and was instrumental in both goals.
He teed up captain Kevin Nolan to rifle home midway through the first half before the same two players combined in much the same fashion with Nolan again finishing from a Carroll header in the shadows of halftime.
"He has the ability to hold ball and the aerial problems he causes is his major strength. Today he made two for Kevin and next week we need him to make another two and get one himself," Allardyce said.
"We've had 11 clean sheets so that's the basis of a solid team and that gives us the platform to win more football games."
The win failed to lift the Hammers out of the relegation zone after other results went against them.
Swansea have won just one of their previous 10 league matches and are 12th with 24 points. With just six points separating the bottom 10 teams, Laudrup refused to get drawn into suggestions that Swansea are already embroiled in a relegation battle.
"There are about 11 teams (who could be involved in a relegation battle) so we'll see what happens over the next four or five games. We cannot go up or down because of one result," he said.
"There will be changes from matchday to matchday."
West Ham, who secured a hard-earned 0-0 draw at Chelsea in midweek, are fourth from bottom on 22 points.
Newcastle stay eighth on 37 points and Swansea are 11th on 24.
Southampton dished out more misery for Fulham who dropped to the foot of the table after a 3-0 defeat at Craven Cottage while Cardiff City are second from bottom following a 2-1 win over Norwich City.
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