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Fulham 0-1 Man Utd Prem25 1213 Daily Telegraph

last updated Sunday 03rd February 2013, 12:16 AM

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Jason Burt at Daily Telegraph

Fulham (0) 0 Man Utd (0) 1

Just as it looked like Manchester United's title hopes might dim a little - and not just because of a first-half floodlight failure at Craven Cottage - Wayne Rooney illuminated this occasion to stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League table to a daunting 10 points.

It is now five goals in five games for Rooney and the delicious reality for Sir Alex Ferguson is that with Robin van Persie not now scoring; his other main striker has stepped up to the plate.

Indeed Van Persie's greatest contribution last night was to head yet another Fulham effort off the goal-line, deep into injury-time.

Defeat was cruel on the home side even if United struck the frame of the goal three times and had a string of other chances. Fulham also hit the post, but somehow did not score. It was incredible that there was just the one goal.

But one goal - and a fine goal at that - was enough to heap the pressure back on the reigning champions, Manchester City, who on Sunday host Liverpool knowing that nothing short of victory will suffice.

With City manager Roberto Mancini declaring his team need to be within five points of United when the two sides meet again in April, there is work to do to half the present advantage.

Will United be champions comes May, Fulham manager Martin Jol was asked? "Yes, they will," was his succinct response as he concentrated more on lamenting his own team's wasted opportunities, even if he was right to claim it was one of their better performances despite ending in defeat.

"We're in a good position, we're pleased," Ferguson said afterwards. "1-0 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 1-0."

Rooney concurred with that. "Thankfully the goal eventually arrived and we hung on," he said. "It is just one of those things, we had to keep our focus and keep pushing for the win.

We are in a good position but we are not going to get carried away. We will keep going and see where we stand with three or four games to go."

United will have to be more clinical and more secure in defence, however.

Fulham were without Dimitar Berbatov, out injured, but the pace and movement of Hugo Rodallega was a handful throughout, even if it was United who could have gone ahead four times in one early, chaotic sequence of play.

From a corner Antonio Valencia's header struck Brede Hangeland, later lost to an Achilles problem, and Mark Schwarzer palmed away superbly but only to Patrice Evra whose shot hit the crossbar. That rebound fell to Rooney who hooked the ball goalwards only for Sascha Riether to clear off the line. Finally, Valencia spun sharply and drove, but his low shot was held by Schwarzer at full stretch.

But back came Fulham and the ball dropped to John Arne Riise, fully 30 yards out, and his fierce angled drive - all swerve and dip - was only just tipped over by David De Gea.

Fulham then poured forward again and in another sweeping move Riise eventually laid the ball to Bryan Ruiz whose snapshot beat De Gea and then cannoned off the base of the post.

Immediately United countered and Hangeland wonderfully tackled Nani as he shaped to shoot before, from the corner, the Fulham defender inadvertently headed against his own crossbar - with Valencia half-volleying the rebound into the side-netting.

It was breathless and compelling and it continued with Rooney then Ashkan Dejagah shooting narrowly wide.

Rooney then went even closer. This time it was his turn to strike the post after a fine move which began with with Nani running at the Fulham defence, picking out Tom Cleverley who teed up Rooney to - even more cleverly - curl his shot around Hangeland and strike the frame of the goal.

By now the rhythm of the contest was being dictated by United, with Fulham relying on the counter-attack - but then, after 43 minutes, the lights went out: the floodlights that is.

In the week in which Fulham chairman Mohamed Fayed converted £187 million worth of loans into equity, therefore making the club debt-free, he left himself open to lame jokes about not paying the electricity bill.

The delay meant that 11 minutes after they were awarded a corner, United were able to finally take it with Van Persie, eventually, firing in his first shot, which Schwarzer just about fielded as Rooney ran in sensing a rebound.

A long ball forward then picked out Van Persie down the left and he worked his way to the byline, his cross finding Nani who saw his shot deflected wide for a corner.

For Fulham at the other end, a fierce low drive by Chris Baird was held by De Gea, who moments later spilled an effort from Riether. Rafael da Silva was also called upon to clear a Ruiz header of the goal-line.

But it was United who scored, with Philippe Senderos nudging substitute Javier Hern√°ndez rather than concentrating on heading clear a flighted pass down the touchline and the ball fell to Rooney who sprinted into the penalty area. Calmly he used substitute Aaron Hughes as a shield to unsight Schwarzer and curled his right-foot shot into the net.

"He had not been a problem for us," Jol growled about Rooney. "And then he scored a goal out of nothing." It was. And it was enough for United.

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland (Hughes, 46), Senderos, Riise; Dejagah (Petric, 82), Baird, Karagounis (Emanuelson, 68), Duff; Ruiz, Rodallega.
Sub not used: Etheridge (gk), Frimpong, Davies, Kacaniklic.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Evra, Ferdinand, Evans, Rafael; Carrick, Cleverley (Giggs, 75); Nani (Welbeck, 84), Rooney, Valencia (Hernandez, 66); Van Persie.
Subs not used: Amos (gk), Anderson, Smalling, Kagawa.

Referee: Kevin Friend.

Attendance: 25,670.

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