Manchester United 1– 0 Fulham
A point for Manchester City away to Stoke at the weekend meant they regained top spot in the Barclays Premier League, but only on goal difference. A Monday night match under the lights of Old Trafford gave Manchester United the opportunity to regain poll position and send out another message to their neighbours that it may not be their time just yet. There is no doubt it has been a tough season for Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad, who are of course in a period of transition, but five wins in an unbeaten last six has seen them overtake their rivals who at one point looked likely to win their first Premier League title.
City appeared to have weathered all of the storms that could the domestic campaign could throw at them – their captain at the time Carlos Tevez not agreeing to play, arguably their most valuable player Yaya Toure absent for a month through international duty and a striker (Mario Balotelli) who seems to be in the media more often than not for all of the wrong reasons. But the cool heads seemed to have cracked in recent weeks and it is Mancini’s men who once again play second string to United.
There is one difference between the two title contenders that seems all too obvious at the
moment, and that is that United have a squad full of players who have already won the Premier League. And it seems Ferguson feels this will be vital for his teams chances, for last nights game eight of the starting eleven all have winner’s medals.
For Fulham, like most clubs that play at Old Trafford, the game offered a chance to pick up any unexpected points. But they certainly did not set out for the draw and in the first they half more than matched a slow starting United who struggled to create any clear chances. The Old Trafford faithful seemed muted by the away side’s early performance. However, as the half developed so did the home side and they went ahead towards the end of the second half when a poorly cleared corner allowed Young to put in a second cross which eventually fell to Rooney for an easy tap in.
Fortunate to be in front at half time, sounds like the luck of champions.
And early in the second half United took full control; it was only for some fine goalkeeping from experienced Mark Schwarzer that the game was still in the balance. But despite their possession United failed to score the vital second goal with fragmented play all over the pitch and the final ball always seeming to lack quality. Jol’s decision to bring on attacking wide man Bryan Ruiz showed the Dutchman’s ambition and Fulham’s rising confidence as the game progressed. On the other side Wayne Rooney was sacrificed for Paul Scholes to sure up what was becoming an increasingly open midfield.
A controversial penalty decision, which went in favour of Manchester United with five minutes left on the clock, signified the end of the storm and an important three points after what was a below average performance for the title holders. Relief the main emotion at the final whistle but Sir Alex Ferguson will know his team need to be better in the remanding games if the they are to win their 21st Premier League title.
Man Of The Match: Antonia Valencia – Posed a threat all game, excellent athleticism but more impressively was his decision making. If he can stay injury free for a long period of time he will no doubt be one of the best midfielder’s in the Premier League.
- United showed strong mentality but always lacked a final product on the night. At times looked complacent and in another game they would have been punished.
- Fulham showed plenty of grit and weathered some tough spells well from United. Pogrebnyak’s work rate was superb and Dempsey offered a touch of class that would have opened doors against most defences. Probably didn’t do enough to get a point, purely based on the amount of saves Schwarzer was asked to make, and despite late pressure De Gea’s goal rarely troubled.
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