Manchester United 3-0 Fulham
Wayne Rooney scored twice as Manchester United returned to the top of the Premier League after beating Fulham 3-0 at Old Trafford.
Rooney provided a suitably quick-fire response after a goalless first half and after he converted Dimitar Berbatov’s cross seven minutes from time to leave him just 10 adrift of Cristiano Ronaldo’s massive total of two years ago, Berbatov ended a frustrating afternoon by finally getting his name on the scoresheet.
On the face of it, a Fulham side in the middle of a titanic Europa League tie with Juventus would appear to be the perfect opponents for UNited on a day they had to follow Chelsea and Arsenal’s wins on Saturday.
Yet, as Ferguson pointed out in the build-up, Roy Hodgson has revolutionised life at Craven Cottage and masterminded a three-goal victory over these same opponents in December.
At the time, United were severely weakened by a loss of defenders.
With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic back those problems are now at an end. On this occasion, it was United’s attack that misfired.
The hosts had plenty of possession and got into the right areas often enough.
But at some stage, all their first half attacks broke down.
Only twice could the Fulham defence take complete credit.
A collective effort ensured Rooney did not profit when Darren Fletcher elected to square the ball after charging into the box to reach Berbatov’s return pass.
Mark Schwarzer denied Rooney later in the half with a fabulous one-handed save after the England man had curled a shot goalwards from 20 yards.
Restored to the starting line-up after missing the midweek demolition of AC Milan, Berbatov had no-one to blame but himself for failing to convert his best chances, both of which were headers.
The Bulgarian should have done better after being picked out by Antonio Valencia and Nani respectively.
Rooney was grumbling at half-time after being hauled down by Stephen Kelly without winning a penalty. He was all smiles 29 seconds after the restart though.
A scrappy build-up saw Berbatov nod the ball into his strike partner’s path. Rooney then fed Nani before advancing into the big hole Fulham’s disorientated defence had left.
Once Nani delivered the return pass back into exactly the same area, the outcome was inevitable.
With the home side in front, so was the result.
Anxiety remained though as long as the wait for a second continued.
Rooney and Berbatov both failed to profit from decent half chances, in the latter man’s case an acrobatic volley from Valencia’s cross that flew narrowly wide.
The value of having Ferdinand and Vidic back in harness was seen as the clock ticked down.
Starved of possession and chances, Bobby Zamora had been given little opportunity to press home his England credentials.
But when he ran onto a flick from substitute Eric Nevland, Zamora must have felt it was the moment he had waited for.
Instead, after being caught out by the initial move, Vidic darted back and snuffed out the opportunity with a thunderous challenge.
For Zamora it was a frustrating afternoon.
It looked like being the same for Berbatov after he failed to convert Park Ji-sung’s neat cross.
But after creating yet another goal for Rooney with a neat cut-back seven minutes from time, the £30.75million man finally located the target himself, from Park’s cross, to complete a scoreline more in keeping with the one-sided nature of proceedings.