Manchester United 4 Fulham 2: Reawakening of United's attacking flair rewarded by timely Coleman tribute

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Given a straight choice Chris Coleman would rather sit in the stands at Old Trafford than watch the champions go to work at Stamford Bridge, and not because the Fulham manager had no option on Saturday when sent from the dug-out for haranguing assistant referee Nigel Bannister over a failure to identify Ruud Van Nistelrooy in an offside position prior to United's third goal.

Coleman hails from the less cynical end of the managerial spectrum, hence the openness that promotes Fulham against United as one of the most entertaining fixtures of the season, and, despite a justifiable sense of injustice at this result, the former Welsh international was unreserved in his appreciation of the style that extended his away record to 13 games without a win this season.

"Chelsea are the best team at the moment. They are the most efficient team. But they can go one goal up, be happy with that and shut up shop. Manchester United are not allowed to play like that," he explained. "They have always played exciting, attacking football. They have to play like that and that is why everyone wants to watch them. On their day I would prefer to watch Man United. Home or away they are set up to attack, but as a football person I do like to see how Chelsea work and the ideas Mourinho has got."

The return of United as the great entertainers is at an embryonic stage, however, and the adventure that has contributed to two compelling Premiership contests in succession, and 10 goals in seven days, has been an accident of injury rather than managerial design.

Sir Alex Ferguson's growing conservatism, apparently encouraged by his assistant, Carlos Queiroz, has been an added trauma for United supporters during the last two seasons without the title but even generous victories over Fulham can offer consolation when there is such an evident enthusiasm for goals.

But the individual defensive errors that led to defeat at Ewood Park were again on display as the outstanding Brian McBride and Heidar Helguson brought Fulham back into a contest they could have drawn on the basis of their second-half performance.

At the end, Old Trafford was still waiting to discover what defensive attributes the new £4.5m signing, Patrice Evra, possesses. "The best headed goals I've seen in years," insisted Ferguson. "A throwback to the days of Tony Hateley and Denis Law."

Fortunately for Ferguson, and his hopes of securing second place, the continued rehabilitation of Louis Saha and some long-awaited productivity from Cristiano Ronaldo ensured United maintained the advantage first established on six minutes when Ji-Sung Park scored his first Premiership goal courtesy of a fortunate deflection off Carlos Bocanegra.

A free-kick that followed a Sidewinder's path from the Portuguese international doubled the home lead before, 56 seconds after McBride's classic header, Saha pounced against his former club following a "horrendous mistake" by the assistant referee.

Coleman saw red for his subsequent reaction, though Bannister was later seen mouthing an apology to Luis Boa Morte after the final whistle.

Goals: Park (7) 1-0; Ronaldo (14) 2-0; McBride (22) 2-1; Saha (23) 3-1; Helguson (37) 3-2; Ronaldo (86) 4-2.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville (Vidic, 68), Brown, Silvestre, Evra (Bardsley, 80); Park (Rooney, 68), Smith, Richardson, Ronaldo; Van Nistelrooy, Saha. Substitutes not used: , Steele (gk), Fletcher.

Fulham (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Knight, Bocanegra, Bridge; Malbranque, Elliott, Brown (Radzinski, 46), Boa Morte; McBride, Helguson (John, 75). Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Goma, Jensen.

Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Booked: United Neville, Evra, Brown, Smith; Fulham Boa Morte, Rosenior.

Man of the match: Louis Saha.

Attendance: 67,844.