0 users online

Man Utd 1-0 Fulham Prem30 Daily Mail

last updated Tuesday 27th March 2012, 5:28 PM
Daily Mail Logo
Ian Ladyman at Daily Mail

Man Utd (1) 1 Fulham (0) 0

The appearance of Sir Alex Ferguson in the technical area late in the game gave it away.

Title race anxiety.

It gets to the very best of them.

Ferguson doesn't do touchlines these days.

Often at Old Trafford you hardly see him, tucked away in his seat in the dug-out.

On Monday night, though, the Manchester United manager appeared in his zone for the last five minutes or so and he had worry written all over him.

His greatest concern as the clock ticked down and Fulham pressed forward was an appeal for a penalty in the 90th minute.

Danny Murphy - a player who has known success here before with Liverpool - surged past Michael Carrick and fell flat on his face 15 yards from goal.

Did Carrick touch him? Yes.

Should it have been a penalty? Probably.

These are the margins that can decide titles, of course.

At his home in the Cheshire commuter belt, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini must have held his head in his hands.

Ferguson's attempts to unsettle him verbally last Friday may not have troubled the Italian.

Moments like these, though, will keep him awake at night if his team cannot manage to halt United's surge towards a 20th League title in the weeks to come.

For City supporters, it must have been hard to know what to make of this latest United performance.

Do you take heart from seeing a rival play without rhythm, fluency or apparent purpose? Or do you fret because they continue to win even when they don't play well? Seasoned watchers of English football will certainly recognise the signs.

When they hit the front, United do not often falter, no matter how modest their actual football.

Last night was an example of this.

United almost stumbled but, ultimately, they did not.

The difference, in the end, was Wayne Rooney's first-half goal.

In Rooney, United have something City do not, namely a centre forward in prime form.

Last night's goal - swept in from seven yards - was not difficult.

Ferguson himself probably could have scored it.

But it was Rooney's eighth goal in his past six Barclays Premier League games, only one fewer than City have managed between them.

It came at the end of an opening half that had seen United play poorly.

They were fitful as an attacking threat and at the back were holes which Fulham forward Clint Dempsey seemed particularly keen to exploit.

Three times in the opening half an hour Dempsey scurried forward to try his luck.

In United's goal David de Gea was called upon to save two of his shots, one on either side, while the other zipped wide.

United enjoyed spells of possession but only a header from Ryan Giggs, saved by Mark Schwarzer, and a scissor kick from Patrice Evra that bounced a foot wide had really threatened to bring them a goal before Rooney struck.

A strange goal it was, too.

United had finally built some pressure thanks to a dart down the right from Antonio Valencia and then a handball appeal against Stephen Kelly on the other side.

Still, though, there appeared little danger when Ashley Young delivered a cross towards the far post.

The ball appeared destined for the forehead of Fulham defender Brede Hangeland, as so many do.

But he failed to intercept and it bounced off left back John Arne Riise, allowing United's Jonny Evans to shovel the ball back across goal where Rooney pounced like all good goalscorers do.

Rooney celebrated with some gusto - something that served to indicate not just the high stakes but also the frustration which had developed during the first 40 minutes.

In the second half we wondered if the dam would break.

United's goal difference is still inferior to City's, remember.

For a while it looked as though it may.

Schwarzer saved an angled Valencia shot, then Hangeland was forced to divert a cross over his own goal.

Later, Schwarzer beat away a stinging Young volley and then saved the follow-up with his legs.

Giggs drove the second rebound against a defender.

Over time, though, United's nerves began to fray.

Their failure to score a second goal seemed to suck the belief from them.

Captain Evra twice fell over the ball.

Giggs then gave it away.

These things don't normally happen at Old Trafford.

Sensing opportunity, Fulham pushed forward.

Twice the ball ping-ponged around the penalty area, then De Gea was forced to come and punch clear.

Tick tock.

Ultimately Martin Jol's team could not fashion the clear opportunity they needed.

The penalty appeal was as close as they came.

When the game ended, Ferguson pushed both arms skywards.

His team had cleared another hurdle and remain title favourites.

If they are to win it, though, they will have to play better than this.

Won't they?

Man Utd De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand (Smalling 74), Evans, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Young, Welbeck (Hernandez 63), Rooney (Scholes 78).
Subs Not Used: Amos, Jones, Berbatov, Cleverley.

Booked: Giggs.

Goals: Rooney 42.

Fulham Schwarzer, Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland, John Arne Riise, Duff, Dembele, Diarra (Murphy 71), Frei (Ruiz 67), Pogrebnyak, Dempsey.
Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Senderos, Etuhu, Briggs, Trotta.

Att: 75, 570

Ref: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

Source .
Since 1998
"It's been updated!"