The noise from a packed Putney End suggested that Manchester United had brought Old Trafford’s new singing section to west London and for most of the afternoon there was plenty to sing about.
Their team made some sweet music, as they normally do in the capital – unbeaten now in 12 League games there – and the result was not in any serious doubt once three goals went past an unprotected Maarten Stekelenburg in the opening 22 minutes.
That was a sufficiently robust platform to support a third successive win for David Moyes and lift his team closer to what has come to be regarded as their natural position in the scheme of things; albeit one they will still be pushed to repeat this season.
Three enforced substitutions at half time caused a falling away of performance thereafter and Fulham, scoring and making the better chances, relieved a little of the pressure on Martin Jol. After a spirited second-half performance, the home team left the stage to sympathetic applause, returned a little sheepishly by their manager.
As the club’s American owner, Shahid Khan, is new to the ways of English football, his vote of confidence in Jol aired on the BBC yesterday appeared to be more sincere than many of the genre. It emphasised not rushing into anything: “The relationship has to be steady, it’s not right to be impetuous,” he said.
If the impression early on yesterday was that the players, rather than the chairman, might have given up on their boss, so feeble was their resistance, they did enough after half time to suggest the opposite was the case. Overall, however, the best they could do was to deny United one of the clean sheets that Moyes would like more of.
“It was a blistering period,” Moyes said of that opening part of the match in which Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney effectively ensured their side’s seventh successive win over Fulham. The form of the latter pair in that first half gave Moyes ammunition for the little argument about whether they form a more dangerous partnership than Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
The opening 20 minutes were similar to last week’s game at Crystal Palace between a struggling home team and visitors in a different class who monopolised possession. The difference was that whereas at Selhurst Park Arsenal had strolled around without positive result and went in at half time still level, United had the clinical finish that brought three goals.
In the ninth minute, Van Persie found Rooney just onside and the goalkeeper out of position. Rooney kept his head and rolled the ball square for Valencia to drive in. Ten minutes later, the precocious Adnan Januzaj robbed Scott Parker, who had slipped over, and supplied Van Persie for a fierce shot into the top of the net. The Dutchman was involved in the third goal too, given onside as he raced away down the right to set up Rooney for a tap-in. “Jol out” briefly rang round the ground.
The manager would have been grateful that it was the United fans he had to walk past to reach the dressing room at half time, although his team had by then at least created a couple of opportunites that might have brought reward on another day. Parker twice played Dimitar Berbatov in, Rafael once arriving just in time and David De Gea then saving low down.
Rafael (ankle), Tom Cleverley (double vision) and Jonny Evans (back) had all been slowed by various knocks and Moyes would clearly have preferred not to replace all three at the interval. He did so, however reluctantly, with Chris Smalling, who went to centre-half, Marouane Fellaini and Shinji Kagawa brought on and Valencia dropping to right-back. Rafael is the most doubtful of the injured trio for Tuesday’s Champions’ League game away to Real Sociedad.
Whether or not it was the disruption, Fulham found enough spirit to enjoy more of the game and – surprisingly – most of the chances. After Pajtim Kasami put a low drive wide, the substitute Alexander Kacaniklic cut in from the left and hit a shot that he will want to claim as his goal even though it deflected in off Rooney.
Later, Adel Taarabt replaced the unpopular Bryan Ruiz to a roar of approval from the home fans and within minutes he was appealing in vain for a penalty after running into the formidable figure of Nemanja Vidic. Then Darren Bent, on for Parker eight minutes from the end, headed Berbatov’s chip onto the top of the bar.
So it was in the end not the humiliation that had appeared likely an hour earlier; which should keep Jol in employment for a while longer.
“They went through our defence like a knife through butter,” he admitted of the goal-rush, consoling himself with: “My boys showed character in the second half. There are always six or seven clubs in trouble and we’re better than six or seven others so we will pick up points.”
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Riether, Senderos, Amorebieta, Richardson; Parker (Bent, 83), Sidwell; Dejagah (Kacaniklic, 61) Ruiz (Taarabt, 74), Kasami; Berbatov.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael (Smalling, h-t), Evans (Kagawa, h-t), Vidic, Evra; Jones, Cleverley (Fellaini, h-t); Valencia, Rooney, Januzaj; Van Persie.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Rooney (Manchester United)
Match rating: 7/10
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