Manchester United returned to the summit of the Premier League table after a slender 1-0 win against Fulham.
Wayne Rooney’s finish three minutes before half-time gives the Reds a three-point advantage over neighbours City – the biggest gap United have benefitted from all season.
Mark Schwarzer denied Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young in the second period as the hosts attempted to extend their lead, but poor decision-making and erratic passing made for a nervy finish.
Fulham looked menacing whenever in United’s third of the pitch but rarely probed, although they were denied a late penalty by referee Michael Oliver. Whites substitute Danny Murphy – who has scored five times in five separate wins against United throughout his career – made a surging run into the area in the 89th minute but was felled by Michael Carrick, yet no decision was made.
Had the visitors been more adventurous then Sir Alex Ferguson’s side may have endured a nervier evening. Rio Ferdinand and man of the match Jonny Evans marshalled the Red Devils’ defence expertly though, yet their team-mates further afield were more execrable.
Danny Welbeck toiled fruitlessly, displaying a lack of awareness and ceding the ball too often while Ryan Giggs was arguably worse. Rooney was never allowed the space to effect the game to his optimum by the vigilant Mahamadou Diarra, while Carrick struggled to keep up with the Cottagers’ mercurial attackers.
Talk turned to the non-penalty after the game, as several tweeters suggested referees bottle big decisions against the home team at Old Trafford. It transpires that this season United have conceded the second most penalties at home of the 20 Premier League clubs, behind only West Brom.
Martin Jol made bold substitutions in withdrawing Diarra for Murphy and introducing Bryan Ruiz, leaving Fulham with six attackers on the field of play at the end of the game. But his side lacked punch and the towering Pavel Pogrebnyak was bullied by Evans, taking his mini goal drought to three games after five strikes in his opening three matches.
Ferguson agreed Fulham should have been awarded the chance to equalise from 12 yards, but told Sky Sports: “We deserved that because we dominated the game.” United are top of the league, but the message was not sent loudly, if clearly.