Manchester United 1-0 Fulham: Champions Scrape Back to the Summit

Luke TaylorCorrespondent IIMarch 28, 2012

Rooney and Evans Combine for, and then Celebrate the Winning Goal
Rooney and Evans Combine for, and then Celebrate the Winning GoalAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester United held off late pressure from Fulham to return to the top of the Barclays Premier League, courtesy of a first-half goal from Wayne Rooney.

The champions have opened up a three-point lead over their Manchester rivals, but struggled to finish off their opponents, who were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty in the dying embers of the game.

Wayne Rooney’s 29th goal of the season was enough for the hosts, who dominated possession, but failed to convert their chances and put the game beyond doubt while the visitors will have felt aggrieved that they were not awarded a penalty when Michael Carrick tripped Danny Murphy in the area.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were looking to take advantage of their city rivals' draw at Stoke on Saturday and knew a win would open up a three-point lead with just eight games remaining.

United dominated the opening proceedings, with Fulham carelessly surrendering possession several times in potentially dangerous areas, but the Red Devils were lacking in creativity and Ryan Giggs’ header, which was comfortably held by Mark Schwarzer, was all they had to show for their ball retention.

Fulham came back into the game and Clint Dempsey’s long-range drive forced David de Gea into a good save while Mahamadou Diarra worked tirelessly and continued to frustrate, seemingly breaking up their play at will.

Antonio Valencia caused the Fulham back line problems and the energetic Evra was dangerous getting forward at every opportunity, although his final ball was lacking.

In the end, however, it was Ashley Young who supplied the ball which led to the breakthrough just before the break.

Young’s cross was met at the back post by Jonny Evans, but the defender opted not to look for his second career goal in as many games and cut the ball back to Rooney to smash home the only goal of the game from close range.

Rooney was a constant threat, dropping deep to create chances, but he failed to add to his goal and had very few opportunities to do so in the second period.

However, United did have a whole host of chances to double their lead, with Schwarzer on top form to deny Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young before making a fantastic double-save from Young shortly afterwards before Brede Hangeland blocked Giggs’ rebound as it headed into the unguarded net.

Their failure to convert their possession and chances into goals then almost came back to haunt them in the dying moments, when Carrick looked to have fouled Danny Murphy in the box.

The referee ignored Fulham’s last-minute appeal and United held on for the victory to put them back at the top of the table.

While they failed to reduce Manchester City’s goal-difference advantage, there was relief at Old Trafford that such a sloppy performance culminated in a win and three points.

The win was yet another boost to United’s title chances, though, and they need to capitalise on their lead with a win at Blackburn on Monday; two days after Sunderland visit their title rivals, City.

It was a disappointing display against Fulham, but the poor display again heralded three points for Sir Alex Ferguson and the title moved ever-closer to returning to Old Trafford.


Player Ratings:

Man Utd: de Gea (7), Evra (8), Ferdinand (6), Evans (7), Rafael (7), Giggs (6), Carrick (6), Young (7), Valencia (7), Rooney (8, Welbeck (6); Subs: Hernandez (6), Smalling (6), Scholes (6).

Fulham: Schwarzer (8), Kelly (6), Riise (6), Hangeland (6), Hughes (6), Duff (6), Diarra (8), Frei (5), Dempsey (7), Pogrebniak (6), Dembele (7); Subs: Ruiz (5), Murphy (6).

Referee: Michael Oliver (5)