It says something for the recent upturn in Manchester United’s performances that securing a 10 point Premier League lead in beating Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday came with its disappointments. United beat Mark Hughes’ mid-table Londoners but there was little convincing about the Reds’ 15th home victory of the season. Yet, with Arsenal not in action until Sunday, United take a commanding lead into the last six matches of the Premier League campaign.
Goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia sealed the win but Fulham can feel unfortunate not to have taken something out of the match. Indeed, the Londoners started brightly and will point to the minor details, which changed a game that rarely shone as bright as the unseasonal Manchester weather. Berbatov benefited from whatever doubt there may have been in being ruled onside on 12 minutes and then a deflection on Nani’s cross enabled Valencia to nod home just the second goal of an injury hit season.
“It was a result but I wouldn’t say it was a job well done at all,” said manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
“We were a bit casual and lackadaisical. In the first half we played some very good football and could have scored a couple more, but we became wasteful with our possession in the second and might have suffered for that.”
Berbatov’s goal was the 22nd of a fruitful if sometimes frustrating season and a beautifully worked team strike at that. Yet the Bulgarian rarely sparkled as he had done in United’s second-half comeback at West Ham United last week. If the striker was often subdued, then his colleagues often followed suit, prompted perhaps by the eight changes made by Ferguson.
“You trust the squad. It wasn’t a risk when you know the players. I picked the right team,” added Ferguson.
Ferguson’s use of his full squad was never in doubt and the absent Wayne Rooney, banned for two matches this week by the Football Association for use of foul language, would probably have started on the bench. Still, with Javier Hernández, Rio Ferdinand, Rafael da Silva and Edwin van der Sar all rested, United’s performance was understandably disjointed at times.
United has dropped only two points at home in the league this season and with Chelsea at Old Trafford on Tuesday Ferguson will be pleased to chalk off another three points.
Yet Fulham could easily have taken the lead before Berbatov’s controversial early strike. Recalled Pole Tomasz Kuszczak, who confirmed yesterday he will leave United in the summer, saved long-range efforts from Gael Kakuta and Moussa Dembele, while Bobby Zamora wasted a good early chance by firing high and wide.
However, in width United possessed the game’s two most dangerous figures. Nani on the left and Valencia on the opposite flank consistently create openings for the hosts. Nani’s mazy run, and exchange of passes with the returning Anderson, created the opening for Berbatov’s strike. The Portuguese then set up Valencia for the second ten minutes later, beating Mark Schwartzer to a loose ball before crossing with the aid of a deflection.
The two assists takes the former Sporting player to 18 for the season and nine goals, although incredibly not on to the PFA Player of the Year shortlist. The much-lauded Gareth Bale, by contrast, has seven goals and one assist in the Premier League to his name.
The early goals enabled United to take a degree of control in an Old Trafford atmosphere that will surely be more lively in Gary Neville’s recently announced testimonial, which will take place in mid-May.
Anderson, not for the first time, should have scored but screwed his shot wide, and then Chris Smalling headed just wide against his former club. Further chances were wasted by Anderson and Darron Gibson could have increased United’s lead in the second half, although the visitors again gave as good as they got.
“They could win everything,” added Hughes, whose relationship with the United manager has never been anything less that spikey.
“They are ticking games off and when you get to this stage of the season, they have been here, understand what needs to happen and what it takes. It is a big ask. Sir Alex would say himself it is very difficult to do, but trust me, it is something they will try and achieve. Good luck to them.”
Indeed, with United one up in the Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea, 10 points ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League and facing inconsistent Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final, Untied supporters have every right to dream.
In Europe the path to a third final in four years is open, with United likely to meet mid-table German side Schalke in the semi-finals should Ferguson’s side overcome Chelsea on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, winnable games against Everton and Newcastle United come before the Reds face Arsenal and Chelsea in early may.
It is indeed a remarkable season. In many ways United’s side without “stardust” is seemingly the worst at Old Trafford for five years. Yet nothing supersedes the results, which now point to another historic season.
United – 451 – Kuszczak; O’Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Valencia (Owen 73), Gibson, Scholes, Anderson (Fabio Da Silva 76), Nani (Carrick 87); Berbatov
Fulham – 442 – Schwarzer; Hughes, Hangeland, Baird, Salcido; Dempsey, Murphy (Greening 82), Etuhu (Gera 67), Kakuta; Zamora, Dembele (Gudjohnsen 55)
Attendance – 75,339
Man of the Match – Nani
Possession: United 54% – 46% Fulham
Attempts: 16 – 12
On Target: 12 – 5
Corners: 8 – 3
Fouls: 12 – 8
10 thoughts on “Reds win but with little panache”
United did what they had to, using as little energy as possible, 2-0, can’t complain.
I concur with madredmonkey. It was fairly comfortable and a fairly stress free afternoon. With all the changes you could argue it was to be expected.
Gibson continues to be an extremely limited player. His shooting was his only good attribute and even that has left him. Anderson did ok but continues to lack the subtle touch require for deft through balls and his shooting is also shit.
You mention Bale. He is a very odd case. OK he did look like a world beater for about six weeks but then he looks as if his mummy has hidden his dummy & he is so upset that he cannot possibly play. Could be a very dangerous buy. To repeat a well worn phrase, “What can the manager possibly see in Darron Gibson?”. He drives me to distraction. He spent most of the match pointing at Fulham players & telling his mates they should be picking them up, whilst sauntering around the pitch as if it was a beach party. Even more odd Paul Scholes did not seem very interested either. Perhaps he too was sulking because he has been pushed to the fringes. Anderson needs urgent attention & repair to his radar, there seems to be a broken connection between brain & boot.
Gibson is a disgrace. Scholes did look disinterested but was also miles better than Gibson. Anderson did actually make an effort and perhaps needs to find some sharpness. I still have faith in him though.
O’Shea… actually not bad again. I suppose he is a useful squad player against lesser teams. Gibson has got to go though – he’s terrible.
All in all… a nice easy 3 points with a much tougher game on Tuesday. Safe to say O’Shea and Gibson will definitely not feature. Scholes on bench?
fuck off.. it was a stroll who needs panache
Itel – was that fuck off directed at me?
That deserves a 2 day ban him from Rant, surely
Ed…last sentence of the 3rd last paragraph “Untied supporters have every right to dream”, am sure you meant United and not Untied……