Fulham 2 Manchester United 3

Rooney reflects dazzle of United
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The Independent Football

Yesterday Ferguson unexpectedly obliged them, just as Chris Coleman had done at the end of last season when Fulham supporters demanded the same change from an unenterprising 4-5-1 system. The effect was a glorious throwback to the era when United were last beaten here, more than 40 years ago.

Five goals flew in during as exciting a first half as anyone could wish to see, even at the London admission prices United's manager recently decried. In a game as unpredictable as the weather, his side recovered from the loss of a bad goal in the second minute to claim a first victory in four League games on the back of an outstanding performance by Wayne Rooney, restored to his rightful position alongside the prolific Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Some rank bad defending on both sides contributed to the entertainment, with England's Rio Ferdinand as guilty as anyone. But when did anyone other than coaches ever complain about that? Fulham's problems at the back were if anything the worse of the two and stemmed in part from Coleman's brave decision to leave out Zat Knight as a disciplinary measure, allegedly after an unauthorised visit to a nightclub.

"We were caught out once or twice but I don't think that was the reason," Coleman said. He did admit that Fulham "gave some slack goals away". After a similar game at home to West Ham, lost 2-1, and a 5-4 win over Lincoln in the Carling Cup, the Premiership's worst-supported club cannot be faulted for lack of entertainment. "Next game, I'll take a poor performance and a win," their manager said glumly.

Ferguson would have settled for the same after a month that might have had supporters singing the Green Day hit "Wake Me Up When September Ends", had they not been so preoccupied with his deployment of players. Instead October was ushered in with a red-letter day that had him glowing at a performance true to United's best traditions. "It was a terrific game, end-to-end stuff," Ferguson enthused. "I thought we were scintillating in the first half."

After an eventful last couple of acts at the Theatre of Dreams, his team selection gave the red hordes behind the goal even more to discuss, with Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo demoted to the dug-out.

But the most significant change was the tactical one, with two players from each side pushed up the middle and a crop of midfielders ready and willing to support them. The effect was thrilling. In the second minute, Ferdinand allowed Collins John to get at him down the centre, then stood appealing for a free-kick as a ricochet off his leg bounced against the striker's arm. John played to the whistle, ploughing on to shoot past Edwin van der Sar, whose first touch on his return to Craven Cottage was therefore to pick the ball out of the net.

It soon became apparent, however, that Fulham had problems of their own, with Alain Goma starting at centre-half in the League for the first time this season. After quarter of an hour, Ji-Sung Park burst through the middle and kept going, stopped only by Moritz Volz's challenge from behind. Van Nistelrooy put away a perfect penalty. In the next attack Ryan Giggs found Park, whose first-time pass released the unmarked Rooney for a cool finish.

It was sunshine after the rain for United, with Fulham in danger of being dazzled. But before half an hour had elapsed, they were level again. Darren Fletcher was booked for a foul on the left and when Claus Jensen curled a free-kick across the six-yard box, Ferdinand decided against going for it and the ball bounced past a startled Van der Sar.

The goalkeeper was composed enough to save from Steed Malbranque's volley and Papa Bouba Diop's fearsome drive. And just before the interval he was able to celebrate another goal at the far end of the pitch. Rooney made it with a wonderful pass inside the full-back for Park, the Korean laying the ball square to give Van Nistelrooy a tap-in for his ninth goal of the season.

It was understandable that the second half could not live up to what had gone before, though neither side were pulling in their horns. Bouba Diop was not far away from reprising his spectacular equaliser in last season's corresponding fixture and Heidar Helguson missed the best chance by heading too high at the far post as another substitute, Tomasz Radzinski, set him up.