In a quite amazing game of football, Manchester United conceded a 94th minute equaliser against a Fulham side, who had led for most of the match. Darren Bent headed home the winner following a parry from David De Gea. Steve Sidwell, who played a major part in the equaliser, opened the scoring when no one picked up his run from midfield and he latched onto Lewis Holtby deep cross.
United then dominated proceedings, despite Fulham nearly scoring on the counter attack just before half time, and were finally rewarded for their efforts when Robin van Persie converted a wayward Juan Mata shot. Two minutes later United were in front, following a left footed strike from Michael Carrick, that took a deflection before leaving a flat footed Stekelenburg helpless.
The home side looked like they’d wrapped up all three points, until Steve Sidwell pounced on soft header from Nemanja Vidic, trying to find Michael Carrick, before playing in Kieran Richardson’s who released a thunderous drive, which was parried away from United’s Spanish keeper into the path of Darren Bent, who headed home to give the visitors a valuable point.
Here we discuss the talking points from the game and welcome comments from both sets of fans.
Defensive Fulham get their reward
Rene Meulensteen set out his stall from the start, with a narrow defensive line to restrict United through the middle, which resulted in the home side having to operate in wide areas. Fulham sat back for the whole ninety minutes, despite having the best chance of the game that didn’t result in a goal. Kieran Richardson’s lung bursting run, as Fulham countered, could have been put the visitors 2-0 up within side the first forty five minutes. These were of course the chances Fulham were limited to by playing the way they did.
Looking at the action areas, Fulham were happy to sit deep and not allow any space in behind for United to run into. The visitors packed the middle of the park and kept Robin van Perise, who didn’t look entirely happy, quiet for most of the game and allow United to cross the ball at will, which was usually met with a Heitinga or Burn headed clearance. Out of the Premier League record 82 crosses from United, 36 of those were headed clear by the opposition.
When fighting for your lives at the bottom of the table, organisation and shape is key when playing away from home. Fulham’s game was to frustrate the home side who, despite having 75% of the ball and over thirty shots on goal, looked extremely vulnerable and unimaginative at times. The visitors rode their luck and got a point for their efforts.
United limited to wide areas and produce phenomenal amount of crosses
“Consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.”
- Oscar Wilde
It might seem odd to quote Oscar Wilde on a football blog, but the above quote is surely quite fitting considering the amount of crosses United put in against Fulham. United’s former head coach also commented on the amount of crosses by the home side and commended the defending of his players. I do think it is a fair assessment to assume United’s approach was lacking in the creative department.
When you’re being frustrated by the opposition, the easy thing to do is to launch the ball into the box, hoping that it may drop to one of your own. “Get it in the mixer” is perhaps a cry you may hear lower down the leagues and something that you wouldn’t expect to see at a top flight match. At times, Fulham had ten players in the box to defend against the crosses of Rafael, Juan Mata, Ashley Young or anyone else that found themselves out wide. The two diagrams below highlight the amount of crosses United put in, compared to that of Southampton a week ago, who won handsomely at Craven Cottage.
You may even suggest that with someone of Ricky Lambert’s ability in the air, Southampton would be forgiven for putting in a few more crosses, however – they ran out 3-0 winners, with all the goals coming in the second half. United surely should have been more patient with their build up and not look to get the ball into the box and any given opportunity. Was it just the way the game panned out, or did Moyes give his players instructions to get the ball in from wide areas?
Pressure mounts yet again on David Moyes
When it rains, it appears to bucket down on David Moyes, who is surely walking around with a constant cloud over him. Just when it appeared that he would notch up an important win and turn a game around late in the day, as his predecessor did time and time again, a weak header from Nemanja Vidic to Michael Carrick allowed Steve Sidwell the opportunity to intercept the ball before playing in Kieran Richardson, which led to the equalising goal. Nothing appears to be going right for David Moyes at the moment.
When Sir Alex Ferguson announced he would be retiring at the end of last season, the only manager I thought that could replace him was Jose Mourinho, who at the time was still contracted to Real Madrid, despite the links with Chelsea. United quickly ensured the waiting world would not have to wait long to understand who his successor would be and, to many fans disappointment, it was not the Portuguese self proclaimed ‘special one’.
When Moyes was announced, many were indeed quite flat about the news, although – I’m sure a large chunk of that was to do with the fact that Ferguson was stepping down. It was of course important to get behind the new manager, who was faced with the most daunting task in football, but even the former Everton man would should admit he never though it would be this bad.
With the news that Nemanja Vidic is off and it appears Rio Ferdinand could follow him at the end of the season, United are speeding up the transition quicker than expected; but is this due to the fact that, as Anderson suggested following his move to Fiorentina, that many United players now want out? Robin van Persie looks a different player compared to the world class forward we were spoiled to see last season. Many have suggested that it is the players who are letting Moyes down, but then in turn – surely it is the manager’s job to motivate the players before a match?
Moyes will surely remain in charge at United for the rest of the campaign, but with United facing the fact that next season could be the first campaign without Champions League football since 95/96 – the summer may prove to be a difficult time for Moyes, especially if players are looking to leave.
It was an absolute shocking result for United, who were expected to easily overcome a poor Fulham side – who lost midweek to Sheffield United in the FA Cup. United boasted a side consisting of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Pesie and new signing Juan Mata – who all were below par on a day that you felt all three would have some impact in a game against a side low on confidence.
It was Rooney who didn’t follow Sidwell for the opening goal, whilst van Persie didn’t look at all comfortable when the ball was played into his feet and being marshalled by his fellow countryman John Heitinga.Fulham’s game plan worked for most of the match, with the home side continuing to be frustrated and wasting a number of attacking threat by simply slinging the ball into the box.
Rafael was one of the main offenders with his poor crossing. The introduction of starlet Adnan Januzaj boosted morale and the youngster looked to take players on or spark a moment of magic with an instinctive backheel to Patrice Evra. For a season that has contained so much disappointment, the introduction of the youngster has been the most pleasing development.
United switched off having done well to get back into the game and then score the winner. David Moyes may have got his name as a defensive coach at Everton, but his Manchester United team looks so vulnerable on the counter when the shape is all over the place. United now travel to Arsenal, who will be looking to bounce back following their humiliating defeat to Liverpool on Saturday. Finishing fourth looks beyond United now, who have nine points to make up on in form Liverpool – who are the next team to visit Old Trafford on Saturday 16th March.