A fantastic game at Craven Cottage with 4 goals should have seen this report start with a 3-1 win for Manchester United as the headline, but Fulham fully deserved a share of the spoils and snatched a late equaliser in a game that had it all. Read on to see video highlights of the game.
Wayne Rooney was absent with illness but this didn’t have any adverse effect on United’s opening play as they dominated the opening exchanges. Paul Scholes’ excellent form has thrust him into his uncomfortable position in the public eye and it was he who opened the scoring with a goal that had been coming. Both Dimitar Berbatov and Ji-Sung Park had efforts before a well worked short corner from Valencia found Berbatov at the edge of the area – the forward’s roll back to Scholes invited a bullet of a shot 30 yards out to give the visitors the lead.
View the first half highlights here – http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/6645531/
United could have extended their lead; Sir Alex Ferguson’s side clearly concentrating on movement where natural creativity was absent, with impressive results early on. Hernandez (making his first start) and Berbatov went close again but after the half hour the hosts rallied to make their own impact on the game. Konchesky found space between O’Shea and Vidic to play in Dickson Etuhu, but the lanky midfielder found veteran stopper Edwin van der Sar defying his age with stunning flexibility to pull off not one but two world class saves.
Nonetheless, the warning was there, and it was neither a surprised or undeserved when Fulham got the equaliser in the 57th minute. Damien Duff completely embarrassed Patrice Evra near the halfway line with an outrageous piece of skill, then played in the impressive Bobby Zamora. Zamora cut the ball back to Simon Davies (who once had a trial at Old Trafford) who scored via the smallest of deflections, with van der Sar unable to save it despite getting a good hand to it. 5 minutes later, United had a lucky escape when Vidic was all hands on Fulham new boy Dembele, but the referees view was blocked by Darren Fletcher.
The Red Devils began to compose themselves and made a double switch with first Nani and then Ryan Giggs coming on for Park and Valencia respectively, and Michael Owen replacing the energetic but otherwise disappointing Chicharito. Chances were aplenty; clear cut opportunities on the other hand were scarce. Nani fired a freekick just over, and Vidic headed two Giggs corners wide, while at the other end, United breathed another sigh of relief when a quick, long free kick caught them out but Zamora fired just wide.
With 7 minutes left the visitors were truly in the ascendency and got a goal that their spell of domination earned. Having benefitted from an extraordinary number of own goals last season, United were in luck here too when Nani’s corner was shinned into his own goal by Hangeland in the 84th minute. Neither scorer or provider had yet to register their final mark on the match, though. Just two minutes after the goal, United racked up another corner which resulted in Damien Duff being bizarrely reprimanded for handball when it seemed he was helpless to stop the ball hitting him.
Nani stepped up to take the spotkick, but it was comfortably but well saved by Fulham keeper Stockdale. The home side responded impressively and won a corner in the 89th minute, which was headed in by Brede Hangeland, completing his retribution for his error moments earlier. Again, van der Sar got a hand to it, but the giant defenders contact was good, as was his leap to get the ball in front of three other players, including Vidic.
View second half highlights here – http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/6645511/
A late period of concerted pressure in injury time from the away team never amounted to anything of note and though United could lament over the lost chance to take a comfortable three points, Fulham were left thinking that with better officiating they too could have snatched the win. With the game coming so early in the season then it’s probably fair to just hold hands up and say “good game”, but with Chelsea’s run of easy games set to continue until October, United can’t afford to drop too many points in these early games. Especially when, with less than 5 minutes to go, they should have been two goals clear. Those of a superstitious disposition may also wish to forget that in our first away game of last season, we missed a penalty that turned out to be crucial.
Still, after the heads down approach from West Brom and Wigan after conceding opening goals to Chelsea, Sir Alex’s comments in 1996 about the effort of Leeds following our tough 1-0 win are particularly pertinent. Teams owe it to themselves and the integrity of the league (Liverpool, take note) to put in 100% all of the time, regardless of the opponent. Fulham showed nothing is a lost cause; if they play the entire season with the same commitment, they’ll have a good year.
Ratings : van der Sar 7, O’Shea 6, Evans 6, Vidic 7, Evra 6, Valencia 6 (Giggs), *Scholes 8, Fletcher 7, Park 6 (Nani 7), Berbatov 6, Chicharito 6 (Owen)