Fulham had lost their last four Premier League games and seven of their last eight away outings. Coupled with their midweek embarrassment by Sheffield United in the FA Cup and their low-profile starting eleven, the Manchester United support congregating at Old Trafford had every right to be in sanguine mood. But so is the unpredictability of the Barclays Premier League, Rene Meulensteen, on his return to where he had served as a respected coach, had obtrusively not read the script as his struggling Fulham side somehow came away with a point.
The Cottagers took the lead in repudiation of the run of play as Steve Sidwell poked in Lewis Holtby's scrumptious chipped pass in what was their first meaningful venture into the United half.
As the anxiety around the Theatre of Dreams heightened, two quick-fire goals from Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick just before the eighty minute mark set United on their way to a dramatic and vital comeback victory.
But Meulensteen's spirited men refused to throw in the towel, and with one minute of stoppage time remaining, Darren Bent stooped low to head home past the helpless De Gea and silence even the newly-opened singing section at Old Trafford.
It was a game in both teams were in dire need of the points. As a consequence of this absorbing draw, David Moyes's side were nine points behind the coveted fourth Champions League spot while Fulham had remained stationary but had instead secured an invaluable boost of confidence as the Whites defended tirelessly and excellently contended with the relentless waves of attack the home outfit mounted. Meulensteen's side were indebted to the numerous stops Maarten Steklenburg produced while Sidwell was fantastic in the heart of the Fulham midfield, subsequently named man of the match. William Kvist, alongside the former Chelsea man, was additionally impressive as the energetic young side selected by Meulensteen, who had seemingly anticipated an attacking siege from the hosts, secured a vital point for the Londoners.
Manchester United thoroughly dominated and began well when an excellent piece of last-ditch defensive yield by Sascha Riether denied van Persie, who was through on goal.
Fulham had failed to produce a noteworthy attack up until the 18th minute, when it resulted in the opening goal. Against the run of play, Sidwell poked in Holtby's wonderful chipped pass as United's defence collapsed. Many questions will be asked as of why Sidwell was allowed to run through the centre un-sighted and finish with all the time in the world.
Moyes's men had extensively commanded proceedings up to that point, but the goal did not falter the pattern of the game as United bombarded the Fulham resistance with cross after cross and attack followed by attack. Van Persie should have equalised for the Red Devils as the Dutchman blazed off from close-range. It epitomized United on the day as van Persie, the master of volleys, would have made 1-1 on any other given day.
Steklenburg thwarted Evra's header and Michael Carrick's volley flew just wide before former United man Kieran Richardson ruefully missed a glorious opportunity to give Fulham some much-needed breathing space and respite after the wing-man was played in well by youngster Mamaur Tankovic.
The hosts failed to break the un-flinching Fulham resistance before the break as Steklenburg saved Carrick's shot before punching away van Persie's follow-up.
United went within inches of claiming the equaliser as Mata found Wayne Rooney in a crowded six-yard box, whose subsequent shot was acrobatically thwarted by the excellent Dutch keeper, who then stopped Rafael's effort.
As Moyes's side began to camp on the edge of the visitors' box, the Stretford End outmuscled the singing section in terms of volume as referee Kevin Friend waved away committed appeals of handball in the penalty area of replays showed young centre-half Burn to have diverted the ball from its intended direction as van Persie burst into the box and towards Dutch national team team-mate Steklenburg.
As the fans began to chant Adnan Januzaj's name, expecting the young Belgian to be their catalyst from the bench, the 18 year-old replaced Darren Fletcher a few minutes before Hernandez and Valencia took the respective places of Rafael and Young. Moyes was going all out for the win, he had nothing to lose.
The gamble had paid dividends as Robin Van Persie equalised with twelve minutes to play. Juan Mata's shot fell for the Dutchman at the near post, and as you would expect, he tapped it in to level the scores, much to David Moyes' delight as the Scot passionately faced the crowd and fist-pumped the air. It was relief more than anything as United finally dissected the Fulham defence.
You're most vulnerable when you've just scored. It was the complete opposite as Manchester United gleefully capitalised on a rattled response from the visitors as Michael Carrick's deflected shot, off the on-rushing Scott Parker, sent Old Trafford into raptures of celebration. Januzaj's cross was cleared only as far as Carrick, who took advantage of the error to restore a usual sight to the Old Trafford faithful. It was like the United of old, always finding a way to win against the immensities.
But truth be told, this is not the United of old, and it showed after a late lapse of concentration allowed substitute Darren Bent to head home. Richardson, who should have scored in the first-half, saw his shot saved by De Gea into the former Sunderland man's path to secure a crucial point in what was an unbelievable match. A brilliant advert for the Barclays Premier League, for sure.