Rooney strike puts United clear at top of table

Manchester United 1 Fulham 0

Manchester United scrambled to victory against Fulham at Old Trafford to open up a three-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

Wayne Rooney's 28th goal of the season proved enough for the hosts.

Sir Alex Ferguson was clearly not impressed though and his side were nearly made to pay the ultimate price for their profligacy when Michael Carrick bundled Danny Murphy over in the box a minute from time but 27-year-old referee Michael Oliver waved away the penalty claims.

Having witnessed title rivals Manchester City drop points at Stoke on Saturday, Ferguson had gone for the jugular with his team selection.

Five offensive players and two naturally overlapping full-backs was a ploy designed to push Fulham onto the back foot, and so it did as Rooney and Ryan Giggs threatened the visitors' goal.

Fulham eventually emerged from their shells though and started to exploit the gaps being offered.

Mousa Dembele drove one effort wide after being invited to run at the United defence, then Clint Dempsey had a go.

The American is much more dangerous and as he set his curling shot for the corner, Fulham's 320-strong travelling support were ready to celebrate.

It was too good to be true though for a team that had only beaten United once away from home since 1959, and David De Gea made an acrobatic save.

From that moment on, the Red Devils exerted their customary pressure.

Their play was not fluent though. A long-range Danny Welbeck shot and a penalty appeal for handball against Stephen Kelly was the best they could muster until Rooney struck.

Even that was a touch odd.

Rooney ducked under Ashley Young's cross when he seemed better placed to convert than Jonny Evans behind him. John Arne Riise should have cleared but it seemed the Norwegian was surprised by Rooney's move and he failed to control, allowing Evans to slide in. The Northern Irishman had the presence of mind to find Rooney instead of going for goal himself from an acute angle.

From that moment, Fulham were doomed as Rooney rattled home his 11th goal in nine games.

If there is one player who has been as influential as the England striker since the turn of the year, it is Antonio Valencia.

Not even a month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury has affected his form and he came close to bagging a brilliant second goal just after the interval.

Setting off on a charge from deep inside his own half, Valencia exchanged passes with Rooney on halfway before squaring to Ryan Giggs and running onto the veteran Welshman's chipped return. Now Valencia was bearing down on the Fulham goal but Mark Schwarzer stayed strong and made the save

Yet for all the simplicity of that effort, United found chances hard to come by against Fulham's disciplined defending.

Javier Hernandez was introduced to give the visitors a different problem to solve but United's next opportunity was quite a while coming, and when it did, Giggs dragged it wide.

Having spoken in such glowing terms about Rio Ferdinand in the build-up, the veteran defender's exit 20 minutes from time was a worry given his long-standing back problems.

United should have made light of his departure by grabbing a second soon afterwards but Schwarzer produced a fine save to repel Young's volley, then kept out the follow-up too before Brede Hangeland prevented Giggs from converting.

In replacing Rooney with Paul Scholes, United seemed to be insuring themselves against unexpected disasters against a hitherto non-existent attacking threat.

But it was the veteran midfielder who put his own team under pressure with a pretty awful tackle on Dempsey that was fortunate to escape sanction beyond a simple free-kick.

Normally content to watch proceedings from the dug-out, Ferguson was clearly agitated and unimpressed by his side's performance.

The Scot really would have been furious had Oliver awarded a penalty for Carrick's tackle from behind on Murphy in the final minute, which TV replays showed he had every right to do.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'