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Man Utd 1-0 Fulham Prem30 Daily Telegraph

last updated Tuesday 27th March 2012, 5:26 PM
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Henry Winter at Daily Telegraph

Man Utd (1) 1 Fulham (0) 0

A collector of fine art, Martin Jol must have an apocalyptic vision of Old Trafford straight from the imagination of Hieronymus Bosch.

Jol never experiences any joy here, his latest nightmare at the Theatre of Dreams ending with him arguing with the officials over the denial of a late penalty to Fulham.

This was a story of three important and deserved points for Manchester United, and one burning, frustrating talking point for Fulham.

With a minute remaining, and United protecting Wayne Rooney's first-half strike, Danny Murphy charged into David de Gea's area and clearly had his heel clipped by Michael Carrick.

Michael Oliver, one of the best referees in the Premier League, erred badly, waving play on and it will be interesting to see whether one of the authorities' favoured sons is dropped from elite duties next weekend.

As United cleared, Jol went into meltdown, even stepping on to the pitch.

At the final whistle, the Dutchman approached Oliver, although he did conclude their debate by shaking hands.

Jol has never savoured much luck at Old Trafford, being denied a victory by Mark Clattenburg when Pedro Mendes's shot was ruled not to have crossed the line on Jan 4, 2005.

Replays confirmed that United's goalkeeper, Roy Carroll, clawed the ball back from almost a yard inside the goal.

Adding to the sense of sporting symmetry at work, Carrick was in Jol's Tottenham midfield that night.

United will point to mistakes against them, to Mike Jones's decision to award Newcastle United a penalty here on Nov 26 when Rio Ferdinand challenged Hatem Ben Arfa.

Ferdinand actually got the ball cleanly but Jones pointed to the spot, Demba Ba secured a point and Sir Alex Ferguson described Jones's decision as a "travesty".

United could also highlight Oliver's failure to award them a penalty in the first half when Fulham's right-back, Stephen Kelly, handled Patrice Evra's driven ball.

City will still be seething.

Roberto Mancini's next media briefing at Carrington, across a few fields from Ferguson's lair, is likely to be an all-ticket affair.

Yet City have enjoyed some good fortune, notably Gareth Barry escaping a caution, and the concession of a penalty, when poleaxing Stoke City's Glenn Whelan on Saturday.

Back in January, Oliver showed remarkable leniency when City's Mario Balotelli stamped on Scott Parker, the Spurs midfielder.

Balotelli stayed on to score the decisive goal, a penalty (although he was subsequently banned).

For all the hyperventilating of the conspiracy theorists, both Manchester clubs will be able to highlight injustices during the season.

For any neutral assessing the ebb and flow of last night's match, a point for Fulham would also have been an injustice.

United were rarely in third gear, rarely at their fluent best but still had Rooney's goal and a strong display from Jonny Evans, who defended well and provided an elegant assist.

Fulham were also indebted to some fine goalkeeping from Mark Schwarzer to keep the score down.

Jol had posed a tactical problem that took the champions 42 minutes to solve.

Until then United had just run into a wall of white shirts.

This was supposedly one of the more straightforward challenges in the title run-in but the visitors refused to roll over.

Jol had set his team up to frustrate in numbers and attack on the counter.

Mahamadou Diarra anchored behind a hard-working quartet of the right-sided Damien Duff, Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey and Kerim Frei on the left.

Pavel Pogrebnyak looked isolated in the early stages but Fulham were soon supporting him well, particularly Dempsey from his central-midfield station.

The American even ventured forward, testing David de Gea with a low shot.

Dempsey's next effort brought a spectacular, slightly theatrical save from De Gea.

Until the excellent Rooney broke through, Fulham's defending was both dogged and disciplined.

United were attacking like a drill-hammer, pounding away.

Three minutes from half-time, United had their reward.

Following a United corner, Evra stroked the ball down the left to Young, who cut inside and did one of those little shuffles, opening a yard of space next to Kelly.

Young curled the ball over, menace glinting under the floodlights, yet still Fulham should have cleared.

Brede Hangeland was well-placed to meet the ball but misjudged its flight.

The ball continued towards the far post yet still Fulham should have cleared.

Riise could have stopped its journey but hesitated, the ball continuing to Evans.

The centre-back, who has enjoyed his best season at Old Trafford, responded like a season centre-forward with his confident cutback to Rooney, who thumped the ball past Schwarzer.

This was Rooney's 28th United goal of the season, and he could close on his record of 34 in 2009-2010.

The lead secured, the thought of improving their goal difference, pulling closer to City, must have passed through United's minds.

Attacking the Stretford End in the second half, United pushed on with even greater pace and purpose.

A fine move involving Rooney, Antonio Valencia and a magnificent first-time pass from Giggs culminated in Valencia bringing a fine save from Schwarzer.

Then came a remarkable double save by Schwarzer after 72 minutes.

When Valencia lifted over a long ball, Young met it first time with real power.

Schwarzer did superbly to repel the first strike and then again to keep out Young's follow-up.

As the ball rolled clear, as the Stretford End gasped in disbelief, Giggs let fly with a shot that Hangeland managed to keep out.

For all their possession, United had to beware the sucker-punch.

Bryan Ruiz swerved in a free-kick from the right, and De Gea appeared through a crowd of players to punch clear.

Controversy then ensued just inside De Gea's area and Jol's nightmare vision of Old Trafford returned.

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).

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