United 3 Fulham 0: Mathieson's verdict
Sir Alex Ferguson had warned the champions that he wanted no messing about - and his side responded in characteristic style. This three-goal salvo was the perfect answer to to United's Premier League rivals Chelsea and Arsenal who had leapfrogged the champions 24 hours earlier. It was also a killer riposte from Wayne Rooney who had seen Chelsea's Didier Drogba eat into his lead in the race for the Golden Boot as top-scorer after his double at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Anything you can do, we can do better, was the answer from United and Rooney. It must have been something of a worry for the Reds' boss, that on the day he implored his side in the programme notes to win the remaining nine matches of the season, the same United Review was celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Old Trafford. United, you see, don't tend to do anniversaries very well. Nobody needs reminding of the 50th commemoration of Munich in 2008, when having honoured that occasion so tastefully in the build-up to the match, the Reds went and lost the derby to City. Even in 1910, when Old Trafford opened, United lost the first match at the new stadium - 4-3 to Liverpool! And talking of anniversaries, it was exactly 12 months ago on Sunday that United were humbled 4-1 by the Merseysiders. A week after that dagger-to-the-heart thumping the Reds went to London and were beaten soundly by Fulham in the most miserable seven days of last term. Of course, the Londoners repeated that feat at Craven Cottage in December when the depleted Reds were beaten 3-0. Back on the eve of the festive season, the champions were in disarray as the defensive casualty-list bit so deep that Fergie had to employ an emergency back-three containing Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ritchie de Laet. Both sides came into this game on the back of an Italian Job. The Reds' heady delights success against Milan was in contrast to Fulham's Euro lesson against Juventus in Turin in the Europa Cup when they were rolled over 3-1 on Thursday night. United moments On the face of it, it should have been the Reds who drew the inspiration from their midweek effort - but you wouldn't have guessed it in the first half. United had their moments with one of their two changes from those who missed out last Wednesday, Dimitar Berbatov, leading the charge with some classy touches and a glancing header he should really have put away with 25 minutes gone. Nevertheless, it was to turn into a great afternoon for the Bulgarian who showed just how unlucky he is to miss out on the run-of-the-mill Euro occasions when Fergie chooses the five-man midfield and lone hitman strategy. Fuham initially were clearly initially unaffected by their loss in Italy and passed the ball around sweetly. Fortunately for United, their tidy build-up lacked punch. The Reds were also lucky that Bobby Zamora isn't the World Cup potential hitman some in the capital seem to think. His one, first-half chance came from a Danny Murphy ball over the top after 38 minutes. In fairness, it wasn't an easy opportunity but his volley caused Edwin Van der Sar no problems. Fulham were having one of those afternoons where they threw countless bodies in front of anything that United tried to conjure into a half-chance. It was proving a successful tactic and had kept Rooney at bay, even as as early as the third minute when keeper Mark Schwarzer took off superbly to deny the England striker. The tormentor of Milan, however, doesn't go into his shell just because of he's been frustrated a couple of times. Fergie could have ditched his interval team-talk and just dished out the match programme with the orders to read his notes, particularly the opening paragraph informing his team he'd set the nine wins target. Having messed about a bit in the first 45 minutes, it took just 22 seconds of the second for the message to sink in - and inevitably it was Rooney who reacted first. Berbatov was involved with a headed flick, Rooney swept the ball wide to Nani and the winger delivered a low cross for United's leading scorer to sidefoot in his 31st of the campaign. Fulham's lack of a cutting edge let United off the hook after 74 minutes when a through ball evaded the Reds back line and Zamora once again showed he's probably not England material. He gave Nenmja Vidic ample time to catch up and block his shot when he was finally shaping up to facing Van der Sar in a one-on-one. The let-off fired up United and after another Berbatov glancing head was off-target, the Bulgarian topped his display with another assist and a goal. Firstly, he sucked Baird and Shorey into a trap on the right wing then forced his way out of it to cutback for Rooney to strike then having messed up two headed chances in the air, Berbatov kept his feet on the ground to stoop and head from Park's cross in the 89th minute. Do you think United will win the title now? Have your say.
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