Fantastic Fulham burst Manchester United's bubble

21 March 2009 06:22
Instead, it ended in rare and unexpected darkness for Alex Ferguson's men, what with a resounding defeat by a magnificent Fulham side, just nine men left on the pitch and serious question marks over their both his side's temperament and ability to stop the blip turning into a full-blown crisis.

You would loved to have known what Ferguson was thinking as he chewed impassively after Zoltan Gera had finished off United in the dying seconds, hooking in Fulham's second goal acrobatically.

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His side had lost Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney to seedings off, they had taken a first half hammering which few of his sides have ever experienced and tomorrow Liverpool have a chance of reducing their lead at the top to just one point.

And will he blame himself? The game changed after the interval once he had brought on Rooney for the totally ineffective Dimitar Berbatov but, by that point, they were struggling desperately after the double whammy moment in the 17th minute when Paul Scholes was sent off for handball on the line, allowing Danny Murphy to convert the penalty.

Ferguson ended the afternoon having to shepherd his players away from complaining at referee Phil Dowd, who late on incurred their wrath when he gave Rooney a second yellow for petulance in throwing the ball away.

Yet he will know they had no-one to blame but themselves. He had called for a stirring response after the Liverpool debacle and, apart from a major rally in the last half-hour when only the brilliance of Mark Schwarzer repeatedly kept 10-man United at bay, he got only incoherence.

Indeed, United could probably count themselves lucky that they aren't losing Cristiano Ronaldo for a couple of games because, on a day when he too lost the plot with his posturing and moaning, he could easily have been sent off himself just before the end.

It was bizarre; amid laughs and chants of outrage, Ronaldo kept showing off the top of his thigh to Dowd to suggest that he had been assaulted by Fulham's defenders. If it had been one of his female admirers, it might have been different; the official was so unimpressed he gave Ronaldo, who had already been booked, a final warning.

Ferguson had threatened to attack any complacency and five changes from the Liverpool shambles proved his assertion. Dropping Rooney was calamitous, though.

United were curiously lethargic from the off as Fulham repeatedly bore down on them with the zest of a team which clearly felt a measure of release after their first away win of the season at Bolton the previous week, United were ragged and absent-minded.

Calamity befell them as Simon Davies slung the ball across from a corner, Bobby Zamora had one close range header clawed away by Van der Sar but, from the rebound, the striker nodded towards the top corner only from Scholes to instantly raise his hands to keep the ball out. He knew he was off.

Murphy's subsequent clinical finish from the spot was merely the signal for Fulham to batter United, Zamora keeping Van der Sar busy with shots from all ranges.

United were so under the cosh that the dismal Berbatov had to be sacrificed at half-time. At least, Ferguson could have no complaint with the second half spirit as United, even with 10 men, finally began to make their class tell.

Ronaldo, though, was so frustrated after being the victim of one assault on his Achilles that he lunged in almost knee high at Murphy. If he had connected he would have been off; Dowd settled for the yellow.

Yet Ronaldo's wildness at least energised him and United. He forced one brilliant save from Schwarzer from a header before the Australian made an amazing double stop to keep out Park and Rooney.

Rooney's self-control deserted him as the clock ticked down, and he chucked the ball away in disgust, leaving Dowd no option but to send him off a few minutes after he'd been yellow carded for a foul on Olivier Dacourt. It put the seal on United's most wretched day of the season.

 

Source: Telegraph