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Cottagers go down in Manchester

last updated Monday 03rd December 2007, 11:26 PM

Man Utd 2-0 Fulham

Danny Murphy
Danny Murphy
went close to scoring

Cristiano Ronaldo emphasised his claims to be the best player on the planet with a match-winning double for Manchester United against Fulham.

It was the 11th time Ronaldo has scored twice in a game for the Red Devils - but his wait for a hat-trick goes on after referee Rob Styles booked the Portugal winger for diving rather than awarding what seemed a certain penalty when he fell over Antti Niemi's body as he pursued a Ryan Giggs' through ball.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo's efforts were enough to see United reclaim second spot in the Barclays Premier League with their seventh straight home win - three points adrift of Arsenal, who also have a game in hand.

Having finished runner-up to Kaka in the voting for the prestigious Ballon D'Or this week, Ronaldo is expected to occupy the same position when FIFA host their world player of the year awards in Zurich later this month.

Other than winning the Champions League with United, or Euro 2008 with Portugal, it is difficult to know what more Ronaldo can do to impress the judges.

Match Stats Man Utd Fulham
Goals 2 0
Possession 55% 45%
Goal attempts 15 13
On Target 11 3
Corners 7 3
Off-sides 9 3
Saves 3 8
Fouls 3 13
Yellows 2 1
Reds 0 0
source: Soccernet

Having netted a phenomenal 23 goals last season, the former Sporting Lisbon star is already up to 13 this term and few would have been better than his opening salvo here.

When Steven Davis inexplicably nodded what should have been a clearing header straight back into his own penalty area, Nemanja Vidic climbed high enough to nod the ball into Ronaldo's path.

From 10 yards, the winger let fly with a thunderbolt volley Niemi had no chance at all of keeping out.

It was the only thing Niemi did not keep out during an outstanding first-half performance as the Finland goalkeeper proved a particularly frustration for Carlos Tevez.

After denying Tevez with one excellent point-blank save, Niemi pulled off an even better one midway through the opening period after the Argentinian nipped in front of Dejan Stefanovic to reach Ryan Giggs' near-post cross.

True, Tevez's shot struck Niemi flush in the face but no matter. Any part of the body will do.

Tevez was denied again in stoppage-time; Niemi alive to his disguised curling shot to the near post as Wayne Rooney waited for a deeper cross.

Antti Niemi
Antti Niemi protected
Fulham's goal difference

On his return to action following an ankle injury, Rooney flitted in and out of the contest, scuffing one effort after being sent through by Rio Ferdinand and another after the interval when Ryan Giggs had set him up.

He also lost his rag with Ronaldo at a failure to supply a simple pass instead of embarking on a series of tricks and left the pitch in a bad mood as well after a couple of borderline offside decisions had gone against him.

At times, United were so much in command it was too easy and as a consequence, passes went astray, offering Fulham hope of avoiding what should have been inevitable defeat.

Danny Murphy, twice the scorer of matchwinners on this ground for Liverpool, forced Edwin van der Sar into a low save and also curled a 20-yard shot just wide.

It was Shefki Kuqi who had the best chance though, arriving unmarked to meet Simon Davies' cross, yet failing to keep his header on target.

Not much changed immediately after the break but any lingering fears of points being needlessly tossed away were dismissed by Ronaldo's second.

Premier League defenders know all about Ronaldo's dancing feet but his heading ability was recently likened to that of 'King' Denis Law by Ferguson, whose words were proved unerringly accurate as he rose to meet John O'Shea's cross and glance it into the bottom corner.

United really should have won by more but after Rooney missed his golden chance, referee Rob Styles booked Ronaldo for diving as he tumbled over Niemi, who had come sliding out to block after the winger had been sent through by Louis Saha.

Whilst it was true no contact had been made, it was only because Ronaldo had taken evasive action and Sir Alex Ferguson's fury on the touchline was understandable.

Niemi denied Ronaldo by more legitimate means not long afterwards before keeping out further efforts from Giggs and Saha to keep the score respectable.

Man Utd Sir Alex Ferguson accused Fulham keeper Antti Niemi of conning Rob Styles into booking Cristiano Ronaldo for diving at Old Trafford tonight.

'There is no question their goalkeeper conned the referee,' fumed Ferguson. 'His action forced the referee to book Cristiano.

'Why would he want to go down? He was on a hat-trick, he had gone round the keeper and he was brought down. It was a ridiculous decision.'

Ferguson feels the ruling is a legacy of Ronaldo's early days at United, when he was branded a diver after a series of theatrical falls.

'There is this perceived idea of Cristiano that he is going to dive,' he said. 'It is quite unfair because he is nothing like that now. He is more mature and a magnificent footballer. He was one on one and he could not get out of the way.'

Having finished runner-up to Kaka for the prestigious Ballon D'Or at the weekend, Ronaldo could not have done much more to impress the voters for FIFA's world player of the year prize later this month.

His efforts saw United complete their seventh straight home win, which allowed them to move back into second spot, three points adrift of leaders Arsenal, who head a title race that is turning into a rare old scrap.

'I said at the start of the season that after finishing so far behind last year, Arsenal and Liverpool wouldn't want that again,' observed Ferguson, who confirmed both Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand had been forced off after a stomach virus hit the United camp this week.

'We expected improvement from them both. Arsenal are doing very well, Liverpool are winning a few games and Chelsea's form since they lost to us has been very good.

'I think you are going to get that now. It is going to be a real battle for the league.'

Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez was quick to defend Niemi, although he attempted to side-step the issue over whether Ronaldo had dived or should have been awarded a spot-kick.

'Antti was trying to tell the referee he had not touched Ronaldo - and he hadn't,' said Sanchez. 'Maybe if Ronaldo had dragged his feet, he would have got a penalty but he didn't, he sprawled over him. Is that a penalty or not? I don't know.

'But if he had gone straight over the top, he probably would have scored.'

Sanchez's argument is unlikely to cut any ice with Ferguson, who watched Ronaldo miss out on a hat-trick after scoring twice for the 11th time in his United career.

Although Niemi's legitimate heroics were largely responsible for keeping the score down, the two goals Fulham conceded were totally self-inflicted.

It was Steven Davis' wayward clearing header that provided Nemanja Vidic with the opportunity to set up Ronaldo for his brilliant first-half volley.

Then Dejan Stefanovic completely lost the former Sporting Lisbon player in the second period as he nodded home John O'Shea's cross for his 13th goal of another incredible campaign.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand (Carrick 75), Vidic, Evra (O'Shea 46), Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Anderson, Giggs, Tevez, Rooney (Saha 71).
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Fletcher.

Booked: Vidic, Ronaldo.

Goals: Ronaldo 10, 58.

Fulham: Niemi, Omozusi, Hughes, Stefanovic, Konchesky, Davies, Davis, Murphy, Bouazza (Ki-Hyeon 71), Dempsey (Healy 64), Kuqi.
Subs Not Used: Warner, Bocanegra, Baird.

Booked: Davies. (90,d)

Att: 75,055

Ref: Rob Styles (Hampshire).

Source Soccernet
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