Title race wide open after Fulham stun United

Fulham 2 Manchester United 0

Fulham smashed the Barclays Premier League title race wide open with a sensational victory against nine-man Manchester United at Craven Cottage.

Danny Murphy put Fulham ahead in the 17th minute when he converted from the penalty spot after Paul Scholes was sent off for handling a header from Bobby Zamora.

Substitute Zoltan Gera then completed a fabulous afternoon for the Cottagers when he hooked home a cross by Andrew Johnson three minutes from time.

United were then reduced to nine men when substitute Wayne Rooney was dismissed for a second bookable offence seconds later.

It was United's second successive defeat following their 4-1 home mauling by Liverpool last weekend and the first time the champions and league leaders had suffered back-to-back losses in the league since April 2005.

But Fulham thoroughly deserved their victory after a first half which saw them rip United's defence open time and again.

Fulham served notice of their intentions when Clint Dempsey fired just wide with an angled drive in the second minute.

Moments later though United almost stole the lead when Dimitar Berbatov headed just over from a cross by Patrice Evra.

United were struggling to impose themselves on Fulham who had taken the game to the Red Devils in a confident fashion.

Zamora was allowed to run on freely after collecting the ball midway in the United half. Unfortunately for the Fulham striker he could not take advantage of his freedom and sent a 20-yard drive beyond Edwin van der Sar's right-hand post.

It was all Fulham with United looking decidedly shaky. Their pressure paid off in dramatic fashion in the 17th minute when Scholes was sent off for handball.

The corner from Simon Davies was headed goalwards by Brede Hangeland and after Zamora's first flick-on was saved by Van der Sar, his second attempt was kept out by the hands of Scholes.

Captain Murphy stepped up to send Van der Sar the wrong way from the spot to give Fulham the lead.

United were clearly having a confidence crisis and the goal was just reward for Fulham's bullish opening.

The Cottagers were humbled 4-0 in the FA Cup at Craven Cottage by United earlier in the month but Sir Alex Ferguson's side now faced a struggle to get back into the game after being reduced to 10 men.

Fulham continued to dominate and only a brilliant save from Van der Sar prevented Zamora from making it two in the 21st minute.

Fulham wasted two more chances to go further ahead with Van der Sar saving brilliantly from Zamora again in the 27th minute and then two minutes later Dempsey sent a right-foot drive flashing wide from 20 yards.

In the 32nd minute a cross from Dempsey was met by the head of Dickson Etuhu but the Fulham midfielder's header was collected safely by Van der Sar.

Moments later the Dutchman had to be alert once more as he dived to his right to catch a ferocious long-range drive from Zamora.

It was an uncharacteristic performance from United with Ryan Giggs guilty of some dreadful passing.

But Fulham had stung the league leaders with an all-action display to outplay their opponents from the start.

United full-back Evra was booked in first-half stoppage time for diving as Fulham were given a standing ovation on the whistle.

Ferguson decided Rooney would provide more firepower in attack as he replaced the ineffective Berbatov for the second half.

In the 52nd minute a cross from Darren Fletcher saw Cristiano Ronaldo climb high to send a header just over the Fulham crossbar.

Ronaldo was becoming more and more frustrated at Phil Dowd's reluctance to award a free-kick every time the Portugal international was tackled.

The United winger was so incensed that he produced a two-footed lunge at Murphy which was surprisingly only punished by a yellow card.

Ronaldo was saved by the fact his reckless challenge did not connect with Murphy, but his antics found little favour with the home crowd who booed him at every opportunity.

But United were beginning to get back into the game and Fletcher brought a save from Mark Schwarzer in the 59th minute when he let loose with a low drive from 20 yards.

Fulham had Schwarzer to thank again in the 61st minute when he saved superbly to keep out a powerful header from Ronaldo.

In the 64th minute, the Australian produced an incredible double save at point-blank range to deny Park Ji-Sung and Rooney and then dived full length to keep out a Ronaldo drive.

Fulham were now reeling for the first time in the game and Murphy was forced off through injury to be replaced by Olivier Dacourt in the 67th minute.

United responded a minute later by removing John O'Shea and replacing him with Carlos Tevez.

But Fulham made the game safe three minutes from time when substitute Gera struck their second from Johnson's assist and Rooney saw red for a second bookable offence as the frustration of defeat proved too much to bear.

The only comfort for United manager Alex Ferguson was that Chelsea counterpart Guus Hiddink lost for the first time in his eight-match reign at White Hart Lane.

Luka Modric's 50th-minute strike ended Tottenham's 19-year wait for a victory over its London rival.

The crossbar denied Alex an equalizer deep into stoppage time.

Stoke moved out of the relegation zone with a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough, which stays second from bottom. Ryan Shawcross met a long throw-in from Rory Delap with a header to beat Brad Jones with six minutes remaining.

Portsmouth's prospects of avoiding relegation were also boosted by Peter Crouch scoring twice to secure a 2-1 victory over Everton.

The three points had looked in doubt when Leighton Baines put Everton ahead in the fourth minute with a free kick that curled in off the far post.

"It was massive we got a win today," Crouch said. "We started badly. Thankfully we showed a lot of character to come back."

Pompey, who had won just one of their last 13 league matches, leveled in the 22nd when a corner was only half cleared before reaching Glen Johnson, who headed across goal for Crouch to find the net.

The England forward pounced again with 15 minutes remaining at Fratton Park, heading past United States goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Blackburn salvaged a 1-1 draw against West Ham. Substitute Keith Andrews scored from a tight angle in the 51st to cancel out Mark Noble's first-half opener for the Hammers.





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