Sir Alex Ferguson's call for greater ruthlessness went unanswered for almost 80 minutes, and the damage could have been serious. The Manchester United supporters who he felt were being made to suffer by their team's failure to kill off the opposition craned their necks to the far end of the pitch as Fulham's bar and post were struck three times in an eventful first half.
If the second half was quieter, Fulham enjoyed the better chances and before the finish Rafael da Silva and Robin van Persie both had to head off the line. In between those incidents, however, United broke out with one long ball from which Wayne Rooney (pictured, with Javier Hernandez) ran on to curl a fine low shot into the net for his 10th goal in as many games.
Ferguson felt it was a deserved victory, claiming: "We had so many chances. It was a terrific football match and it was an excellent result, and I'm very pleased for us. They had some great chances too. Our keeper [David De Gea], Jonny [Evans], Rio [Ferdinand] were terrific and we had a few chances ourselves in the second half. They have had a great home record over the years and it is a very important result for us."
Right from the start, Ferguson must have feared that the more clinical finishing he had demanded was still – like the players who were on the end of the chances – missing. In a first 20 minutes of almost unceasing incident, United had half a dozen good opportunities, four of which materialised in one extraordinary attack. Van Persie's right-wing corner began the mayhem as an awkward bounce off Brede Hangeland's shoulder forced Mark Schwarzer to parry; Patrice Evra, following up, hit the bar, Sascha Riether blocked Rooney's shot from the rebound on the line and before Fulham had cleared, Schwarzer saved from Evra amid appeals for a foul on Van Persie.
Next, Hangeland headed another corner against his own bar and Rooney shot against a post. Not that Fulham were overwhelmed. Jon Arne Riise's fierce, dipping volley was turned over the bar by the much criticised De Gea and Bryan Ruiz became the latest player to strike the frame of the goal.
A floodlight failure three minutes before the scheduled interval gave the players a breather. But no sooner had they retired to the dressing rooms than they were summoned back on. For the second half, Fulham were without Hangeland in the centre of their hard-pressed defence, Aaron Hughes deputising. The Norwegian's performance had been somewhat erratic and they did not miss his height, managing to stem the flow of crosses that Antonio Valencia and Nani had been putting over.
It was altogether a better effort from Martin Jol's side than in a 5-0 home defeat by United last season and the 4-1 FA Cup loss at Old Trafford last weekend, but the good work was undone with 11 minutes to play when Evans sent a long ball down the left that Philippe Senderos could not cut out and Rooney ran on to curl a fine, low drive past the defiant Schwarzer. Just before that, De Gea had been beaten but Rafael headed away Ruiz's effort and in added time it was Van Persie going beyond the call of duty on the goalline who kept out a header from Senderos.