Man United beats Fulham to take 3-point lead

Wayne Rooney sent Manchester United three points clear in the

Premier League on Monday, scoring a first-half goal in a 1-0

victory over Fulham to earn the reigning champions their sixth

straight league win.

The England striker ensured United capitalized on title rival

Manchester City’s 1-1 draw at Stoke on Saturday by stroking home a

close-range winner high into the net in the 42nd minute at Old

Trafford, his 21st league goal of the season.

With only eight games left in the campaign and what appears an

easier run-in than City, Alex Ferguson’s side is now the favorite

to extend its record haul of English titles to 20 at the expense of

one of its fiercest rivals.

”It’s a good position to be in but it’s not decisive,”

Ferguson said. ”It’s a good game for us tonight – that’s what it

will be like for us for the rest of the season.”

From a position of total authority, United endured some nervous

moments in the final 10 minutes and could have conceded a late

penalty when Michael Carrick appeared to bundle over midfield

counterpart Danny Murphy in the area.

”I think everyone in the stadium expected a penalty, to be

honest,” Fulham manager Martin Jol said. ”But you have to be

brave to give a penalty at Old Trafford.”

United should have been well clear by then, with Fulham

goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer producing wonderful saves to deny wingers

Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia at the start of the second

half.

”For an hour, we played very well,” Ferguson said. ”The

disappointing thing was that we never finished them off.”

Rooney has found his scoring form just at the right time for

United, his goal taking his tally in the last nine games in all

competitions to 11.

He is now just five goals behind Arsenal striker Robin van

Persie in the Premier League’s goalscoring charts and the same

amount away from equaling his record league haul in one season.

The goal was avoidable from Fulham’s point of view, with left

back John Arne Riise failing to clear a cross from the left by the

recalled Young.

United defender Jonny Evans, who had come upfield for a corner,

stabbed the ball back across goal for Rooney to stroke into the net

from the edge of the six-yard box.

It was United’s fifth 1-0 win of the campaign and extended its

unbeaten league run to 10 matches, nine of which have been wins in

a typically strong finish to the season that has become the club’s

trademark under Ferguson.

”It’s a great result for us but we are disappointed with the

performance,” said Evans, whose center-half partner Rio Ferdinand

came off in the 74th minute with stiffness in his back.

Save for a couple of shots from distance by top scorer Clint

Dempsey, 13th-place Fulham – which came into the game with the

joint-worst away record in the league and with just one win at Old

Trafford since 1959 – had been on the back foot up until Rooney’s

goal although United hadn’t created any genuine chances.

The second half was even more one-sided, with Valencia drawing a

point-blank save in the 47th from Schwarzer, who then also saved

well from Young’s curling shot.

With goal difference potentially a factor in the run-in, United

poured forward in a bid to trim City’s three-goal advantage,

bringing on Mexico striker Javier Hernandez in the 63rd minute.

Ryan Giggs dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box,

before Schwarzer produced a stunning double save to twice deny the

lively Young.

Fulham had its moments toward the end of the match, Dempsey just

failing to get a touch to Murphy’s floated through-ball with only

United goalkeeper David De Gea to beat.

With the home side becoming increasingly nervous and lax in

possession, Murphy ghosted into the box and fell under pressure

from the retreating Carrick. Referee Michael Oliver ignored

Fulham’s protests and United survived.