Manchester United defeated a stubborn Fulham side by a solitary goal in a hard fought contest on the banks of the Thames.
Sir Alex made changes to the team that had stuttered past Southampton, playing two recognised, if extremely out of form wingers in Valencia and Nani alongside Carrick and Cleverley in midfield. Evans came back into the back four with Rafael, Ferdinand and Evra and Rooney partnered van Persie up front once again.
United started the game brightly running most of their attacks through either Carrick or Cleverley who linked well with both wingers and Rooney when dropping short. United’s first real chance came from a corner after 7 minutes as Nani turned Hangeland who then diverted the ball towards his own goal off his back, only to be saved by a fantastic reaction stop by 40 year old Mark Schwarzer. Jonny Evans fought for the rebound and it eventually fell into Evra’s path. The Frenchman’s shot hit the bar, and a Rooney overhead attempt from the rebound was cleared to safety ending a frantic 30 seconds for the Cottagers.
The reds didn’t have it all their way however as they were caught on the break several times during the course of the game, Dejagah (who has moves like.. well, you know) guilty of squandering decent chances to put Fulham into the lead.
Fulham’s first sighter came from Liverpool old-boy John Arne Riise who lashed a dipping shot from outside the box which De Gea palmed over with ease. A few minutes later Bryan Ruiz found himself with space on the edge of United’s box only to see his low half-volley tipped onto the post by De Gea’s fingertips – an outstanding save that most keepers in the Premier League would struggle to make and yet more proof of the quality of this young shot stopper, as if any were needed by close followers of the team.
After half an hour, United worked a good chance for Rooney who bent his shot onto Schwarzer’s far post in what could be seen as a sighter for his winner later in the game.
United hit the woodwork 3 times in the first half, leading to thoughts of it being another ‘one of those days’ where the finishing couldn’t quite match the build up play.
After the break the game continued in the same vain, with United struggling to break down a resolute Fulham side that was content to sit deep and attempt to hit on the counter. Ferguson sensed the need to change things up and subbed the ineffective Valencia off for Hernandez after 66 mins, sending Rooney back into midfield.
United immediately seemed to pose a greater threat, especially as Hernandez was set to work against sub Aaron Hughes who had come on for the injured Hangeland at half time.
Perhaps looking for greater midfield invention, the reds made another change after 75 mins, brining on Giggs for Cleverley, and just 3 minutes later, Rooney broke the deadlock.
Jonny Evans played a speculative ball forward from the back which ex-gunner Senderos completely misjudged whilst trying to leaver Hernandez out the way. Rooney ran onto the bouncing ball, controlled it perfectly and drove into the penalty area before bending his shot around Hughes and into the far corner of the net. A finish reminiscent of Ronaldo’s on the same ground in the 87’th minute to win the same fixture in ’07.
United held on during some late pressure from Fulham, an extension of a worrying trend that’s seen ‘backs to the wall’ tactics required against Liverpool, Spurs and now Fulham.
The win sent the Red Devils temporarily clear by 10 points, before City’s draw to Liverpool reduced that back to 9. Of course with 12 games to go this means very little, (as last season shows) however with another win on the board, Sir Alex will feel his team are that little bit closer to reclaiming the title.