The talk is all of quintuples or even sextuples, but Manchester United refuse to take their eye off the ball and look at the trophy cupboard. Three cups have already been won, the Premier League is almost spoken for and the Champions' League resumes with United in a favourable position in midweek. Now they are through to Wembley and their record 26th FA Cup semi-final, recovering from some early unease to brush Fulham aside by running up a three-goal lead shortly after half-time.
It was a masterclass of modern football against opponents who are, after all, in the top half of the League and had lost only two games at home all season, one of them a freakish defeat by Hull last Wednesday. Carlos Tevez, contributing much more than his two goals, was probably United's best player, but Wayne Rooney, one of those taken off before the end, was not far behind.
Jose Mourinho and Internazionale will be given plenty to ponder when they study the videotape of the game ahead of their visit to Old Trafford. Their most encouraging moment will probably be seeing Rio Ferdinand brought off at the interval after collecting a knock. "He's a bit of a concern," Sir Alex Ferguson admitted. "He went over on his ankle. I just hope he makes it, because he's such an important player for us."
That piece of misfortune aside, Ferguson's permutations were exactly right once more. Making seven changes from Sunday's Carling Cup success, he left Cristiano Ronaldo at home to rest and was able to bring off John O'Shea and Rooney long before the end. Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes, all of whom could be used against Inter, were available here but not one of them was required to pull off a tracksuit.
"It was looking quite an even game for 20 minutes," Fulham's manager, Roy Hodgson, said. During that time Nemanja Vidic had to hack clear off the line from Andy Johnson's flick. Once United scored, however, courtesy of some weak defending, they were never in danger. Michael Carrick took a corner that Rooney flicked on and Paul Konchesky at the far post failed to prevent Tevez scoring with a header. The goal deflated three sides of the atmospheric ground by the Thames, which was forced to admire the second one after 35 minutes.
Tevez, "a jack-in-the-box all day" according to his manager, set off from just inside Fulham's half, from where he cut back on to his right foot and sent an unstoppable drive from 20 yards hurtling past Mark Schwarzer.
By half-time Johnson might have pulled a goal back, only to be thwarted by Ferdinand's superb block, which led to his taking a knock. So, having failed to cut their arrears before the interval, Fulham needed to do so early in the second half rather than conceding a third goal. Brede Hangeland and Dickson Etuhu wasted opportunities to clear and Anderson supplied Rooney, who curled a right-footed shot low into the far corner of the net.
Ferguson had already taken off Ferdinand with Inter in mind and the third goal allowed him the luxury of substituting Rooney as well as O'Shea, who will have to play at right-back on Wednesday in the continued absence of Wes Brown, Rafael da Silva and Gary Neville. With three of the younger brigade on in Jonny Evans, Richard Eckersley and Danny Welbeck, the only question for United to resolve was whether Tevez would complete his hat-trick. Instead it was Ji-Sung Park, working as hard as ever, who picked up a wayward pass from Zoltan Gera and scored the fourth as the visiting supporters ran through their celebratory anthems.
Fulham, beaten 3-0 at Old Trafford last month, have now not beaten United in 30 meetings since 1964. "We've lost to a great team, with their technical skill and ability to keep the ball," Hodgson said. "Of course it's possible they could win everything." Unfortunately for him and his troops, they are back here in the League on Saturday week.
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Tevez
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content