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Fulham 3 Manchester United 0: Fergie losing his grip as title hopes suffer

20 Dec 2009 00:09:54

Fulham 3 Manchester United 0: Fergie losing his grip as title hopes suffer

When Sir Alex Ferguson looks back on this draining, demanding season, he may decide that this was the day the title was lost. A freezing, foot-stamping pre-Christmas afternoon by the Thames concluded with United praying for the relief of the final whistle while the Fulham faithful bawled 'We want four!' Ferguson has rarely endured such a grievous setback. By vivid contrast, Roy Hodgson was doing his best to avoid smugness. A lugubrious character, more used to analysing complicated draws or unreasonable defeats at Craven Cottage, he is having to learn a whole vocabulary in this enchanted season. White hot: Zamora notched his fifth goal in four games He is popularly credited with having 'done a good job'. In fact, the Fulham manager has done rather more than that. Sure, United had an injury list which resembled an endless sicknote. Sure, fewer than half the players who turned out could expect a place in the recognised first team. And, sure, Ferguson was forced to play an unfamiliar formation, with three at the back to balance his depleted resources. But three goals were the least that Hodgson's side deserved. The old, vaguely patronising days of 'Everybody loves dear old Fulham' have departed. They demand to be taken seriously, and the goals delivered by Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff were evidence of their claim. The accepted wisdom insists that when Paul Scholes is on his game, then United must prosper. Sadly, the reverse is also true. A heavy weight of expectation was laid upon him and he was unequal to the demand. Remember me? Danny Murphy made a habit of scoring against United for Liverpool Indeed, Scholes' unhappiness set the tone for United's display, just as the long-striding, eternally aggressive Zamora epitomised Fulham's attitude. There are days when a striker can do no wrong, nothing which does not appear dangerous, powerful, innovative. Zamora enjoyed such a day, and he is relishing such a season. And the more he flourished, with a fruitful supply from midfield, the more United faltered. The notion of Zamora as an England front man no longer looks as fanciful as once it did. Why, if Michael Owen is in serious contention, then the Fulham forward is practically on the plane to South Africa. For the United striker was vapidly anonymous, a rare and glittering talent reduced to irrelevance. Even in such a depleted side, he seemed fortunate to find a place. He was withdrawn after 70 minutes, and it is difficult to imagine him starting too many more matches this season. Pointing the way to victory: Damien Duff Scholes was equally miserable. Booked in the seventh minute for a poor tackle on Duff, he never appeared at ease thereafter. The customary sharpness and accuracy had deserted him, and at times he looked a yard off the pace. That affliction was distributed across the United team. Fulham should have taken the lead on 18 minutes when Zamora chested a chance inside to Zoltan Gera, but the volley was ill-struck. Yet Fulham were getting at United's back three far too easily, and on 22 minutes they scored a goal they deserved. It was pathetically simple, with Scholes loitering on the ball 35 yards out and Murphy depriving him. The midfield man moved forward, glanced around for the challenges which never arrived, struck an adequately-hopeful shot from 20 yards and watched it bounce in front of the keeper before snuggling into the corner. The real United do not concede such gifts, but this side were constantly fallible. Fulham were entitled to expect more than a single goal for their efforts and their expectations were realised within 30 seconds of the second half. Bad day at the office: Ferguson Duff was sent scuttling down the right and lifted a cross to the far post. Clint Dempsey rose to the ball and donated the most inviting chance to Zamora, whose volley was briskly decisive. Over in his dugout, Ferguson looked aghast. All his darkest fears were coming to pass. And things grew no better. The system was not working. While Fulham were controlled and cohesive, United were forced to turn hopefully to individuals. Nobody answered the call. While Wayne Rooney gave his all, he found no responses to his promptings. United brought on Dimitar Berbatov but his impact was as feeble as the energy he expended. Then, on 75 minutes, the argument was concluded. It was a serviceable goal; a long ball played up to Zamora, which was controlled and shrewdly laid off. Duff collected the offering, poked a deft volley at the chance and saw it defeat Kuszczak. The job was over, the task complete, the damage to United's hopes efficiently executed. Across west London, you could almost hear the sounds of celebration bursting from Stamford Bridge. They think it is all over. And they may well be right.  PREMIER LEAGUE LIVE: All Saturday's action as it happenedFulham striker Bobby Zamora: Now I'm getting my rewardsNew deal Ryan Giggs looks ahead to more trophies with Manchester UnitedFULHAM FC


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