The success United enjoy in modern football commenced in my eyes against todays opponents, Fulham in August 2006. That day, United went 4-0 up in the first twenty minutes, of the first game of the season at Old Trafford, a match United ended up winning 5-1. Later on that season, United nicked a slutchy 2-1 win against the same opposition at Craven Cottage with a last minute goal from Cristiano Ronaldo which induced a celebratory dance from Sir Alex Ferguson which has gone down in United folklore. The results of that seasons fixtures nicely encapsulate the matches between United and Fulham in recent times. In March 2009, United murdered a terrible Fulham team 4-0 in the FA Cup quarter final, only to go there two weeks later and lose 2-0 to the same side. Last season just prior to Christmas, United won 5-0 at Craven Cottage, later on in the season, United stole a 1-0 win against Fulham at Old Trafford with a goal from Wayne Rooney, just like today in fact.
In the last week at Old Trafford, we’ve seen two completely opposite performances from visiting sides. On Wednesday just passed, Southampton came and gave United a fright, four days earlier Fulham visited in the FA Cup and gave what was to me, the worst away performance I’ve seen all season. They were pathetic but one thing I knew walking away from Old Trafford last Saturday was there was no way they were going to be as bad as that when United played them next, seven days later. So it was, the match today reminded me of the strategy United used to adopt for European away matches where they would absorb the fire and fury of a feisty home side in the first twenty minutes before asserting control of the game, there were a few hair raising moments. Ashkan Dejagah, John Arne Riise and Bryan Ruiz all forced great saves from David De Gea in that period. United also had chances in the first twenty minutes, the most memorable in the eighth minute when a goalmouth scramble had Patrice Evra hit the bar and in that melee, Mark Schwarzer made the first of several great saves today. Fulham as expected, were a completely different prospect from the abject shambles we saw at last weekends cup match at Old Trafford.
The Putney end at Craven Cottage today, two hours before kick off (photo courtesy of Barney at www.rednews.co.uk )
United were gaining some great momentum just before half time, then the floodlights failed just as Robin Van Persie was about to take a corner. For the second time this season, United had an impromptu break from the game due to floodlight failure, the other occurrence being in Braga last November. The good news at half time was the discovery that Brede Hangeland was not coming out for for the second half. He had been Fulham’s best player in the first half, posing some attacking menace as well as solid defensive play. United fans in the Putney end of Craven Cottage were giving constant vocal encouragement to the side. In the 79th minute, both the traveling reds and the United side got our just reward with the brilliant finish of Wayne Rooney for the winner. Using Aaron Hughes as a decoy, Rooney placed the ball past a partially sighted Mark Schwarzer to his left hand post. Schwarzer, like last weekend, had a great game, he constantly frustrated United with some great goalkeeping but there was nothing he could do about that goal.
Robin Van Persie had his quietest game to date for United, the first flash of danger from him occurred just before half time when he hit a hard low shot straight into the arms of Mark Schwarzer. Whilst Van Persie had by his standards a quiet game, he forced the error that Philippe Senderos made by drawing him out of position to leave Wayne Rooney free on the left hand flank for his run through to goal. In injury time, Van Persie cleared a Philippe Senderos header off the line, reminiscent of the way Eric Cantona did in the 1996 FA Cup semi final, it was the kind of clearance that had you gratefully wondering, “what the fuckin’ hell was he doing there?” If this was a quiet game for Van Persie, we could be looking at some happy times with him around.
There is a light that never goes out
At the time of writing, things look good, United are now ten points ahead of City, albeit having played a game more. After last season, nobody will be taking anything for granted despite the triumphant tone of some of the songs sung by United fans today at Craven Cottage. For all that though, I’m scratching my head in delighted disbelief at the table. My feeling last summer and it was a feeling shared by many of my red brethren, was that City were going to run away with the league this season, in a similar way the Chelsea did in season 2005/2006 having won the title the previous campaign. I’m not daft enough to think the league is already won but I’m confident that whatever happens between now and May, City won’t be running away with the title. Chelsea’s defeat at the Mike Ashley arena has now ended any clinging lingering hope of them challenging for the title. The result from that game was one unifying bit of news for both sets of fans today in the ground at Fulham. As an added bonus, the Leeds vermin were beaten at home by Cardiff City with a goal scored by ex-United centre forward, Frazier Campbell. With a bit of luck, that should leave them where they truly belong and keep them and their inbred followers from polluting the Premier League for at least another season.