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Fulham 0-1 Man Utd Prem25 1213 Daily Mail

last updated Sunday 03rd February 2013, 12:26 AM

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Rob Draper at Daily Mail

Fulham (0) 0 Man Utd (0) 1

On a curious night in west London, when the lights went out and Manchester United were far from their best, Wayne Rooney took the chance to remind the watching world that there is more than one world-class finisher at his club.

With the clock showing 78 minutes gone, Robin van Persie was looking subdued and Fulham were gathering momentum when Rooney took a touch and stole a glance to assess his options.

Admittedly he had been aided by the failure of Philippe Senderos to deal with Patrice Evra's long pass. But chances such as these had been few and far between for United in the second half and Rooney must have known this was his moment.

Aaron Hughes was blocking his view, but Rooney remained unperturbed. He picked his spot and guided the ball, curling past Hughes and beyond the stretching arm of Mark Schwarzer into the far corner.

Although there would be some scares thereafter - in the dying minutes Van Persie rose to head a Senderos header off his own line - United secured the points and a 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League with that precise piece of finishing from Rooney.

And you only had to witness the players' frenzy of celebration in front of the travelling fans to understand the significance.

Plenty of twist and turns are yet to come this season but still United will feel this that a big step was taken towards their 20th title last night at Craven Cottage.

For it is on cold nights such as this, away from Old Trafford, in front of passionate and vocal fans urging the emboldened home side on, that it is easy to falter, as their rivals Manchester City did at Loftus Road on Tuesday.

Not least, when you have to negotiate the distraction of a ten-minute break as both teams did when the floodlights failed just before half time.

Ultimately that would prove incidental, with the lights soon restored and the teams returning to play out the remaining three minutes of the half.

More significant was the haphazard nature of an enthralling first half on a night when Fulham caused their visitors considerably more trouble than might have been expected.

'Determined' was the word Sir Alex Ferguson used to describe his team's display.

'It wasn't easy because Fulham played their part,' he said. 'One-nil doesn't do the game justice. We hit the woodwork three times, they have had chances too, and all in all it was a fantastic game. It was amazing it finished only 1-0.'

In that assessment he was spot on. Fulham were excellent and their manager, Martin Jol, rated it 'one of our better performances this year.'

And the opening 35 minutes of the game were exhilarating as each side wrestled to assume the initiative.

Fulham survived an early melee when Nani's header from van Persie's corner was well saved by Mark Schwarzer, only to fall to Evra, who lifted his shot against the bar.

Even then the danger wasn't clear, as Rooney met the rebound with an athletic hooked shot, which Sascha Riether needed to head off the line.

But United proved equally vulnerable. John Arne Riise's volley on 12 minutes required David De Gea to stretch acrobatically to tip the ball. And three minutes later, Fulham broke quickly to find Bryan Ruiz on the edge of the box and his low shot rebounded off the post with the goalkeeper utterly beaten.

Brede Hangelaand then almost put through his own net on 16 minutes, heading on to the bar as he attempted to clear a Rooney corner, before Antonio Valenica struck the side netting.

But the best first half move came on 33 minutes, when Nani broke down the left and found Tom Cleverley, who touched the ball to Rooney, who in turn hit his shot first time, only to see it spin off the inside of the post.

Fulham, without Dimitar Berbatov, had to cope with losing Hangeland at half time to an Achilles injury but they remained resolute, with Chris Baird and Giorgos Karagounis coping admirably in central midfield, stemming United's flow.

And the visitors looked frail at times. Rio Ferdinand played well in front of the watching England manager Roy Hodgson but his venture out of defence on 55 minutes almost ended in calamity when he was robbed by Karagounis, who drove wide.

Then, on 62 minutes, Baird forced De Gea into a smart save with powerful shot from 25 yards. And De Gea was scrambling again to save on 72 minutes, when Riethar struck from the edge of the area. Then Rafael had to clear a Ruiz header off the line on 77 minutes.

United, it seemed, were faltering and Fulham growing in confidence. That is, until that hopeful long ball, that defensive error and that clinical finish. It was hardly the most glorious of victories. But it is one United may cherish if they are lifting silverware come May.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Riether, Hangeland (Hughes 46), Senderos, Riise, Duff, Karagounis (Emanuelson 68), Baird, Dejagah (Petric 82), Ruiz, Rodallega.
Subs Not Used: Etheridge, Frimpong, Davies, Kacaniklic.

Booked: Baird.

Manchester United: De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Valencia (Hernandez 66), Cleverley (Giggs 75), Carrick, Nani (Welbeck 84), Rooney, van Persie.
Subs Not Used: Amos, Anderson, Smalling, Kagawa.

Booked: Rooney.

Goals: Rooney 79.

Att: 25,670

Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).

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