When the summer transfer window closed, Fulham's manager Martin Jol was left bitterly frustrated at having lost two key players, Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele, at the last minute to Tottenham's poker tactics; and envious of his friend Sir Alex Ferguson having secured Robin van Persie from Arsenal. As another window shut last week, he was far happier with Fulham's dealings and more convinced than ever that Van Persie's was the signing that will take the Premier League title back to Manchester United.
After Wayne Rooney had conjured up the only goal near the end of dramatic evening encounter down by the riverside, Jol said: "Rooney causes you problems because he is playing behind your midfield in that hole and he's very clever. But Van Persie is the main man. He's the one who sets them up with the little flicks and combinations. He will be the top scorer in the Premier League again, as he was last year. I think Van Persie is like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Wherever Zlatan goes, they will be champions. I think Van Persie has that quality as well. If the rest [of the team] are useless, he will not win you the title. But United are very good – plus they've got Van Persie."
The striker was even on his own goal line right at the death to keep out a header by Philippe Senderos, just as Rafael had been to thwart Bryan Ruiz a little earlier. As Ruiz also hit a post and the frame of Fulham's goal was struck three times, it would have been bizarre had the match ended in the first goalless draw between these teams since 1924.
The two goalkeepers nevertheless played their part, the much criticised David de Gea coming in for praise for friend and foe alike after many observers blamed him for Tottenham's late equaliser at White Hart Lane recently. Rooney said: "I know he got a little bit of criticism after the Tottenham game but it wasn't biggest mistake I've ever seen. We're all behind him, he's a great player for the future as well." Jonny Evans, whose long ball down the left set up Rooney's goal, added: "David's save from [Jon Arne] Riise was excellent. We're used to seeing him do that, people underestimate the reflexes he's got, the shot-stopping ability."
Fulham looked an entirely different side to the one that submitted so tamely in the FA Cup at Old Trafford only seven days earlier. Following victory over West Ham in midweek, this was a further encouraging performance, which the fullback Sascha Riether put down to greater commitment.
"We understand that the fans were not happy earlier, because he had not been fighting to the end," he said. "But in the last two games there has been a change. There was a team with a fighting spirit, a team that wants to win and if we can go on like that it will be a great season. United are champions if they can win games like that. Sometimes you play against them and you think you have done well in the game, created chances but in the end, they win 1-0. That's a good team."
Jol signed six players in the January window and while admitting that some of them are short of matches, he is expected to give opportunities to the midfielders Emmanuel Frimpong and Urby Emanuelson, on loan from Arsenal and Milan respectively. "Normally I hate the transfer window but this time for us it was a good one for us because we could do a lot," he said.
Goals: Man Utd Rooney 79.
Substitutions: Fulham Hughes 6 (Hangeland, HT), Emanuelson 7 (Karagounis, 68), Petric (Dejagah, 82). Man Utd Hernandez 7 (Valencia, 66), Giggs (Cleverley, 75), Welbeck (Nani, 84).
Bookings: Fulham Baird. Man Utd Rooney.
Man of the match Rooney. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Fulham 45%. Man Utd 55%.
Attempts on target: Fulham 6. Man Utd 7.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).