Fulham 0-1 Manchester United
Often fragile this season, Manchester United showed a strong sense of confidence and resilience while helping themselves to a narrow 1-0 away victory over a determined, diligent Fulham side at Craven Cottage. Despite a massive twelve minute power brownout, the Red Devils’ shrugged off the difficulties of flickering floodlights, the bitter cold and a stuttering strike force to create an intimidating 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League over their main and local rivals at Manchester City. On a night when even United’s talisman striker Robin Van Persie seemed hesitant and slightly off-kilter, job number one was carried out with a ruthless acumen and efficiency by Wayne Rooney.
With the wind-chill off the Thames registering temperatures way below zero, United arrived in southwest London in an attacking mood. With both Antonio Valencia and Nani having both been a disappointment this season, it was a surprise to see Sir Alex ferguson throw the dice and put both wingers on the field simultaneously as part of a 4-4-2 lineup. And it only took eight minutes for United to twice come close as a Carrick corner ricocheted off Brede Hangeland’s shoulder and an unmarked Patrice Evra somehow botched firing home in front of an open goal. His anemic shot was blocked by Philippe Senderos, followed by a brilliant block on the part of John-Arne Riise on the goal line from a blistering Rooney volley.
But this was a completely different Fulham side to the one which had faced United at Old Trafford in the F.A.. Cup a week back. Unburdened of the presence of their shiftless, ball-hogging striker Dimitar Berbatov, the Cottagers’ warmed up their freezing fans with a surprisingly untypical game of pressing, fast-break counterattack. Led by the big Norwegian redhead John-Arne Riise down United’s left flank, United were caught with their pants down more than a few times. Only a brilliant reflex save from the much maligned David De Gea saved United from falling behind. Then, only minutes later, De Gea’s reflexes were successfully tested again as he tipped another Bryan Ruiz shot away off the post.
Consequently, the pattern of the game was set as Fulham kept ten men behind the ball while double making and pressing Carrick and Cleverley. Yet just as Fulham were holding their own, United executed a lovely bit of business in midfield as Nani dribbled into the box, located Cleverley and he set the table for Rooney to smash another unstoppable shot that somehow hit the post.
Then:, out of nowhere, darkness on the 42 minut mark as, just when Rooney was taking a corner, there was a brownout. After a tedious, cold ten minutes, the teams played out the game’s last four minutes before trooping off the field for a second time.
United carried on dominating possession in the second half, but with Carrick and Cleverley repeatedly unable to bolster up action through the middle, the Gaffer forced a tactical change on Fulham’s defense when Chicharito Hernandez replaced Valencia and Rooney took over the left flank in front of Patrice Evra. Yet, just as United looked to be at both their most casual and comfortable, Fulham squandered a couple of fine opportunities as Ashkan Dejagahteed set up Sascha Riether for a low drive, which De Gea did well to save before a brilliant flying Rafael leapt to deflect Ruiz’s header off the line.
Finally, in the 79th minute, Fulham’s slow-footed Philippe Senderos overran a long Evra pass. Then came Rooney’s moment: a clearance by Patrice Evra was misjudged by Senderos, allowing an unmarked Rooney tons of space to hoover the ball up on his left side and shift on the fly to his right, before coolly slipping the ball past a an oncoming Mark Schwartzer.
The one goal, proved to be just enough to suffice for United. Having kept a clean she without any slight sign of nervousness, David De Gea’s ownership of the goal keeping position looks to be back on track. With an in-form Wayne Rooney crackling like bacon in a cast-iron frying pan, England’s international team ought to give Brazil a run for the money on Wednesday.