It was an electric performance by both the sides, which is more than what can be said for Craven Cottage. 😉
Manchester United got the job done the hard way by edging past a stubborn Fulham side through a late Wayne Rooney goal. The Red Devils now sit comfortable at the summit of the Barclays Premier League 9 points clear of 2nd place Manchester City who could only manage a draw at home against an inspired Liverpool side.
Sir Alex Ferguson chose a rather attacking side with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in front of the goal while Nani and Antonio Valencia took to the wings. The in-form midfield pair of Tom Cleverly and Michael Carrick were back together in the centre. The only surprise was Johnny Evans who was put right in the thick of it, straight from a hamstring injury (but we all know better than to doubt SAF’s decisions :-)). David De Gea was trusted yet again to gaurd the post for Man Utd over Anders Lindegaard.
United started the first half brightly and almost took the lead from a van Persie corner met by Nani. But Mark Schwarzer was placed correctly to prevent the ball from going in. Patrice Evra was the fastest to react but could only hit the cross bar from just a yard out. It was Wayne Rooney’s turn then. He too tried to volley the ball in, but Fulham defenders cleared it just off the line. The ball reached only as far as Tom Cleverly who laid it off the van Persie. Van Persie managed to get the ball to a waiting Evra who took his chance but Schwarzer, this time, managed to hold onto the ball.
Fulham, who from their previous encounter in the FA Cup with United (they lost 4-1 at Old Trafford), knew better than to just sit and defend for 90 minutes, hoping to get a point out of the game. They showed their intent when John Arne Riise fired one of his trademark scorchers from an unbelieveable distance. De Gea produced an equally stunning save and tipped the ball over the bar. He was up for it again, this time, tipping a low drive by Brian Ruiz on the post.
United had their share of ‘post hitting’ to. Through Wayne Rooney first, at 30 minutes when his curling shot struck the woodwork. Then it was Brede Hangeland’s misqueued header that went the wrong way and hit the top of the bar.
And then came the blackout. The floodlights went out at the Cottage just before United were going to put even more pressure from a corner. The players waited it out before heading back into the dressing rooms, only to come out again after 5 minutes to play the remaining 3 minutes of the first half.
The start to the second half felt flat, with a tame van Persie header straight at Schwarzer and a shanked Rafael shot from 25 yards the closest United came before the hour mark. Fulham, for their part, were content to slow the pace of the game right down, putting the onus on the Reds to lift the tempo. But United’s passing wasn’t as crisp as it needed to be. A change was sorely needed to freshen up United’s attack, and it arrived with the introduction of Javier Hernandez in place of Valencia. The Mexican’s energy provided a purpose to the Reds’ play, as they blatantly started launching balls over Fulham’s back four, hoping to catch one of the strikers in space. But it wasnt all about attacking. United had to do their share of defending when Rafael cleared the ball off the goal line.
Then came the breakthrough. Johnny Evans lobbed the ball in the air for Hernandez. Senderos came forward to halt his run, but failed to see Rooney chasing after the ball. Rooney jogged into the penalty box and beautifully curled the ball in the bottom corner, just out of Schwarzer’s reach. 🙂
The game wasn’t done and dusted there. Chicharito could have killed it as a contest when he ran through on goal but had a shot save, while van Persie cleared a late effort off the line and some heroic defending from Jonny Evans in particular was vital in seeing out a nervy finish.
Nonetheless, its the result that felt more significant than the performance. 3 points yet again for Manchester United. 🙂
Glory Glory Man Utd!! 😀