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Man Utd 2-2 Fulham Prem 25 1314 Daily Mail

last updated Monday 10th February 2014, 10:32 AM
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Ian Ladyman at Daily Mail

Man Utd (0) 2 Fulham (1) 2

Just when Manchester United thought it couldn't get any worse, it got worse. This may not have been another defeat for David Moyes, but it felt like one.

It was just as numbing, just as demoralising and once again Moyes's afternoon at Old Trafford ended with that dreadful, long walk from the dug-out to the tunnel in the corner.

Much more of this and the United manager will be asking them to move it a little bit closer. With the TV cameras following him every step of the way, those with ghoulish tendencies are able to stare straight into his soul.

This time, United took a point. But this was a game against the bottom team in the Barclays Premier League, a team beaten at home by Sheffield United from League One last week.

The statistics make remarkable reading. Eighty-one crosses by United - an OPTA record - and 75 per cent possession. United also had 31 shots. Nevertheless, they were 12 minutes from losing. Had it not been for a howling miss from Kieran Richardson in the first half, they would have been two goals down, too.

For Moyes this is a season that just will not get better. If United lose at Arsenal on Wednesday and resurgent Liverpool win at Fulham, the defending champions will be 12 points from the fourth Champions League spot that means everything in the modern age.

Moyes has spoken recently of luck and the fact United haven't had much. However, United did have a little. Richardson will ask himself how he managed to miss from six yards with the score at 1-0 to Fulham. Michael Carrick's goal, meanwhile, took a deflection.

The fact is that United are stuck in second gear this season simply because they continue to make dreadful mistakes, continue to rely far too much on stellar players like Wayne Rooney and continue to lack conviction in so much of their play. That has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the mediocre football that has characterised their season.

Certainly, this was a startling afternoon at Old Trafford. Fulham were, for the large part, pretty dreadful. Their manager Rene Meulensteen picked a rather peculiar team and they played in a peculiar way. Such was their desperation to defend, they seemed to forget that they were allowed to keep the ball, too.

Nevertheless, ultimately Meulensteen's plan worked. Darren Bent's 94th-minute goal gave them a point and they went home happy when, on another day, they might have lost by a handful.

Early on in the piece, there was little to suggest that United wouldn't have things their way. They started positively enough, but then Fulham did something unexpected: they scored. Picking the ball up 35 yards from goal, Fulham midfielder Lewis Holtby found himself with options. Bravely, though, he chose the most ambitious one, floating a delicate pass into the path of Steve Sidwell. A side-foot finish on the volley gave Fulham the lead.

If United were not quite stunned then they were certainly surprised. Nobody had seen that coming. For the remaining 25 minutes of the first half, they flooded forward. Carrick fizzed a volley wide and was denied by goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg. Robin van Persie was denied by a defender's body and then Nemanja Vidic thumped a header into the keeper's midriff.

In the midst of all this, though, Fulham broke with stunning ease to carve out the best chance of the game. Fulham cleared a corner from their own six-yard line, allowing Muamer Tankovic to race the length of the field to play in Richardson to his left. It seemed as though Richardson couldn't miss... but he did.

In some ways, that summed up United's season. They looked vulnerable, compliant and slow. Vidic and Patrice Evra looked like they were running in cement as they tried to retreat. On United pushed, though, into the second half. The opening period saw them deliver 46 crosses and the pattern continued as the home team dominated.

Many of the deliveries lacked quality, it must be said. There were still enough that troubled Fulham, though, and it was peculiar that it took United until the 79th minute to find a way through.

Rooney was denied by Stekelenburg in the 55th minute, Fulham defender Dan Burn escaped with a handball in the penalty area before Carrick headed over from a corner.

Eventually, the dam broke and United scored twice in two minutes. Momentarily, it was just like the old days.

Van Persie was first to strike, shovelling Juan Mata's low cross in from close range. Then, as the volume rose, Carrick found the corner from the edge of the penalty area via a deflection off substitute Scott Parker.

Moyes celebrated that goal like a golfer who had holed from 40 feet on the 18th. That in itself spoke volumes for his current state of mind.

Certainly the game looked over, but there was time for more drama. Van Persie spurned a chance to score the third and then Fulham broke. Vidic's defensive header was a poor one, Richardson's shot was palmed into the air by David de Gea and Bent scored from a yard.

Afterwards, Moyes put on a brave face. What other alternative is there?

Man Utd: De Gea 6; Rafael 5 (Valencia 69, 6), Smalling 6, Vidic 5, Evra 6; Fletcher 6 (Januzaj 62, 7), Carrick 7; Mata 7, Rooney 8, Young 6 (Hernandez 69, 6); Van Persie 6.
Subs: Ferdinand, Giggs, Lindegaard, Kagawa

Scorers: Van Persie 78, Carrick 80

Fulham: Stekelenburg 8; Riether 6, Burn 7, Heitinga 7, Riise 6; Tunnicliffe 6 (Parker 65, 7), Kvist 7 (Cole 80), Sidwell 7, Richardson 6; Holtby 7, Tankovic 7 (Bent 46, 6).
Subs: Hangeland, Kacaniklic, Stockdale, Duff

Sidwell 19 (Holtby spots a run down the centre by Sidwell and picks him out brilliantly. Sidwell, who wasn't tracked, converts with a sliding volley into the bottom corner),
Bent 90+4 (Richardson freed into space and as De Gea can only parry his shot up into the air, Bent is on hand to nod into an empty net.)

Referee: Kevin Friend - 7

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