An absolutely gripping encounter at Craven Cottage replete with “Where is Mark Schwarzer?”
Rumours are that he was kept out because of a back injury but others suggest that Hughes kept out the wantaway goalie who might have compromised a meeting with his old nemesis, Sir Alex Ferguson.
For United, Wayne Rooney nursing a stomach bug did not travel with the team. His place was taken by Mexican wunderkid Chicharito Hernandez.
Whatever the reasons, his replacement David Stockdale did nothing to diminish himself coming up with some spectacular saves to deny before Paul Scholes put United through with this rocking blast which Stockdale could do nothing about. (see above video)
Fabio Capello was at hand to see the evergreen Man Utd man riding a purple patch- the thought that he will ditch his “young uns” policy to get the former international on board is too tempting. Hugh Grant was at his side – maybe pitching for Zamora?
United were ascendant for the first 20 minutes as Fulham struggled for midfield coherence. Dimitar Berbatov was a threat with his clever flicks and heads up service, one which isolated Scholes for his scoring blast.
But slowly the Cottagers led by Danny Murphy and Simon Davies got back into the game with clever link up play between Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora. The former West Ham striker was a handful constantly besting Jonny Evans with his physicality and ability to play with his back to goal. The last 15 minutes produced a 60% to 40% imbalance in possession. Van Der Sar’s quality goalkeeping kept out two very close attempts by Dickson Etuhu to preserve their first half lead.
The second half saw Fulham exert even more control and in the 57th minute Duff got past Evra on the right sideline and fed it to the racing Zamora who blew past Evans and then cut the ball back to the middle to find Davies. A swing of the leg and the ball was past Van Der Sar whose reflexes were not quite enough. Fulham were level. (video)
Man Utd brought in Nani whose presence made an instant difference as his pace pushed the Fulham midfield into defensive duties. Utd were knocking on Fulham’s door. A series of corners taken by the Portugese international saw a fascinating tussle between Vidic and Hangeland, won by the Man Utd center back with only the direction on his headers missing.
The citadel finally fell as Hangeland was drawn into making inadvertent contact with the ball after a Nani corner leading to an own goal. (video)
Man Utd should have put away the game after Duff unintentionally handballed a pass in the Fulham box. Referee Andre Marriner saw it fit to award a spot kick. Nani was the penalty taker, an unusual choice with Scholes and Owen ahead of him. And it showed as he hit the ball with force but without direction and Stockdale diving to his right was able to save it.
Nani’s miss came back to haunt them as Fulham forced a corner in the last minutes of the game and Hangeland besting Vidic’s effort was able to elevate himself to meet Duff’s floater to nod the ball at an angle. Again Van Der Sar was able to get a hand but it was not enough. (see above video)
Great game which kept you glued. Absolute first class fare between the two sides. Fulham have shown that they will be tough to beat at home.