Sandwiched between two monumental Champions League clashes against Chelsea, United faced the challenge of the visit of Mark Hughes’s Fulham side, intent on securing only their second away win in the league this season. With one eye on Tuesday nights match, United made 8 changes to their side as they attempted to preserve key squad players from injury, whilst overcoming a resilient Fulham side in a potentially dangerous encounter. United welcomed back out of favour Dimitar Berbatov and Nani back into the attack in place of the suspended Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, testimony to United’s current strength in depth.
Infront of a sun soaked Old Trafford, Fulham made a bright start to the game with on loan youngster Gael Kakuta testing stand in keeper Tomasz Kuszczak early in the piece with a decent left footed strike. United struggled in the early stages as Fulham were successfully exposing the pockets of space infront of Uniteds defence, with the deep lying Paul Scholes lacking support from his midfield colleagues. Yet as champions do, United took the early lead in the game largely against the run of play, after a sublime piece of individual brilliance from Nani saw him weave to the edge of the Fulham area, before finding Berbatov in space to curl home his 21st goal of the season.
With the security of a one goal lead, United grew into the game as Antonio Valencia in particular continued his exceptional form since his return from injury. As the pressure grew, Fulham’s belief in getting a result began to wave, and an ascendant United doubled their lead in the 32nd minute as Nani raced clear before knocking the ball past Mark Schwarzer and chipping across to Antonio Valencia to nod in a much deserved goal. United could have buried Fulham before half time, only for Anderson to horribly scew Dimitar Berbatov’s cutback wide, although realistically a 2-0 scoreline was likely to be a bridge too far for a struggling Fulham side.
With the points seemingly secure, United struggled to lift themselves for the second half, allowing Fulham several opportunities to get back into the game. Substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen forced a brilliant save from Kuszczak, shortly before Bobby Zamora came close with a free kick from narrowly outside the box. United however were not to be denied, and closed out a relatively drab second half to secure 3 valuable points and their 14th home league win of the season.
Although it was a not a vintage United performance, the result was exactly what Fergie would have wanted, especially given the wholesale changes made to the side, and our ability to get a result without key players. 5 more wins from the remaining 6 games would secure United the title, however with Chelsea and Arsenal still to play, there is plenty more football to come before any title is decided. However, our current squad has the experience and the nouse to overcome the pressure that goes with every game from now, so we can feel confident that number 19 is a distinct posibility.
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