Despite the fact he scored at Old Trafford with a muscular header, this is not a night Aaron Hughes would want to relive.
He gave away the opening penalty, failed to close down Wayne Rooney for Manchester United’s second and deflected Javier Hernandez’s shot past his own keeper. All in all, not one for the grandchildren.
He need not dwell upon it – the third-minute penalty always seemed as if it would set United on their merry way through a tie that proved as one-sided at it seemed likely to be when it was selected for live broadcast.
United seemed determined to make a big thing of the FA Cup. As the teams lined up in the tunnel, the loudspeakers continually broadcast the fact that they had lifted the trophy more than any other club.
If they were measuring their history in years, this was a tie decided in the opening seconds. It took 39 for Wayne Rooney to force a corner and 72 for Hughes to handle as the Ulsterman rose to meet that kick in front of Chris Smalling.
Rooney’s miss in the third-round replay here against West Ham had made him the fourth Manchester United player to fail to convert a penalty this season. With Sir Alex Ferguson writing in the programme that: “We will really have to up our game in this area,” the pressure fell on Ryan Giggs, who struck his kick to Mark Schwarzer’s right and, although his goalkeeper’s glove touched the ball, it was not enough to stop it from hitting the back of the net.
Had Mark Clattenburg awarded another handball for what seemed a blatant offence by Damien Duff, the match might have been decided long before the interval.
John Arne Riise had his work cut out dealing with Nani and, increasingly as the tie wore on, a rampant Rooney. First, he failed to cut out a long diagonal ball that was meant for Nani, who had a clear sight of goal and might have wished he had shot harder.
Moments later, the boy from the Cape Verde Islands delivered a cross to Rooney, which he controlled and then shot, almost in the same movement, the ball striking Schwarzer’s body and rebounding against the underside of the crossbar before being scrambled away to temporary safety.
Within four minutes of the restart, the ball was in the Fulham net. Rooney had just seen a shot cleared off the line by Hughes when he cut inside the defender and shot between the two centre-halves and past Schwarzer.
Then, as the Fulham defence attempted to clear a ball with the same degree of certainty as a kitten toying with a hand-grenade, Rooney crossed, the ball struck the back of a defender’s boot and Hernandez did the rest.
The Stretford End began singing the old song about Wembley. They may not reach that far but their place in the fifth round was now utterly secure.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Da Silva, Jones, Smalling, Evra; Nani, Anderson (Kagawa, 71), Carrick (Scholes, 61), Giggs (Valencia, 71); Rooney, Hernandez.
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Duff (Rodallega, 61), Sidwell, Baird (Karagounis, h-t), Kacaniklic; Ruiz (Dejegah, 70); Berbatov.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Rooney (Manchester United)
Match rating: 5/10
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