United stumble to victory; Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
After a weeks break following the demolition of Wolverhampton Wanderers , United welcomed Fulham to Old Trafford with the reds looking to leapfrog Manchester City to the top of the table and go 3 points clear. Having beaten the West London side 5-0 in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, and with the visitors only having won twice away from home this term, there was a confidence around Old Trafford that United would secure a vital 3 points. Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs returned to the side to give extra attacking intent against a Fulham line up seemingly set up to secure a point.
As expected, United controlled the early exchanges, coming out of the traps quickly with real intent and verve. Danny Welbeck forced a poor clearance from Brede Hangelaand in the first few minutes, with the England striker unlucky to not get the run of the ball in his favour to set up what would have been a clear cut opportunity. The in form Antonio Valencia played in Rafael, whose dinked cross found Giggs, but the Welshman headed straight at Schwarzer, as United failed to fully capitalise on their territorial dominance. At the other end, Fulham began to express themselves after weathering the early United storm, testing David De Gea through Clint Dempsey’s curling shot from the edge of the box, forcing the United keeper into a diving save. In a half of few chances, it was United who struck, as Young’s delightful cross from the right was misjudged by Hangelaand, allowing Evans to steer the ball back at the back post to Rooney, who slotted home his 6th goal in 5 games and gave United a vital half time lead.
A Fulham side seemingly determined to avoid a similar mauling to that which they received in December continued to allow United pressure in the second half, as a second goal seemed inevitable. However, much like the first, United were wasteful in the final 3rd, with Ryan Giggs struggling to provide the ammunition for Rooney and co to punish Fulham’s tentativeness. Ashley Young was close to sealing the points, as his volley at the back post was well saved by Schwarzer, who also saved the follow up smartly and the subsequent scramble was cleared off the line by Hangelaand after Giggs’ tame strike. Having failed to kill the game off, a tense finale ensued for United, who were visibly nervy in the closing stages stringing together a series of sloppy errors in midfield. With 2 minutes remaining on the clock, Danny Murphy burst into the penalty area with the goal gaping, however Michael Carrick intervened and appeared to trip Murphy, denying the former Liverpool midfielder a chance to equalise. Referee Michael Oliver waved away Fulham protestations, and handed United a crucial reprieve in the title race, and kept on track the reds mission to become English champions for the 20th time.
DDG – 7 Commanded the area well and dealt with crosses particularly well.
Rafael – 6 Combined with Valencia superbly at times.
Evans – 7 Dealt with Pogrebnyak easily.
Ferdinand – 7 Fine performance until substation on the hour mark.
Evra – 6 Sloppy in final 3rd.
Valencia – 7 MOTM Not at his devastating best, but United’s biggest threat.
Carrick – 6 One of his more careless performance.
Giggs – 3 Out of sorts.
Young – 6 Delightful cross for opener.
Rooney – 6 Goal aside, quiet performance.
Welbeck – 5 One of his poorest performance this season.
Smalling – 6 Dealt with aerial bombardment well in closing stages.
Scholes – 5 Failed to provide calm in midfield.
Hernandez – 4 Ineffectual.