Premier League - United thrash Fulham at Cottage
A rampant Manchester United thrashed Fulham 5-0 in the Premier League, with wonderful goals from Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov highlights of the night at Craven Cottage.
Fulham rallied in the second half but failed to find a breakthrough, with Rooney adding a wonderful fourth and Berbatov a typically impudent fifth to add a late gloss to the result.
United stayed two points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City going into Christmas, while Fulham stay in the bottom half after their worst home defeat in recent memory.
Fulham played better in the second half but were undone by their terrible opening 45 minutes, although they had some great chances late on with Andy Johnson missing three good opportunities before Rooney and Berbatov completed the rout.
United played as well as they have in recent months but Fulham were abject in a first half that saw the visitors put the game out of sight.
The hosts seemed to suffer from a hangover after their 2-0 win over Bolton and were sluggish in attack – Anders Lindegaard, preferred to David De Gea barely touched the ball in the first period – and sleepy in defence.
Clint Dempsey was fortunate to escape a first-minute sending off when he elbowed Phil Jones in the face, the England defender’s night ending 20 minutes in. He will have an x-ray on his jaw on Thursday.
Before going off, Jones managed to put in a superb saving tackle on Bryan Ruiz, but that was Fulham’s only genuine foray of the half as United ran rampant.
On five minutes the visitors took the lead thanks to a super run and cross by Nani that Welbeck converted with a low strike, but the United forward was afforded a free finish by some woeful defending from Philippe Senderos.
There were half-chances for Rooney, Giggs and Antonio Valencia before Nani doubled the lead on 28 minutes with a glancing header from a wicked Giggs cross after a short corner, a move United employed with regularity.
Fulham were not completely at fault for that but they had allowed themselves to be fooled by the give-and-go routine between Giggs and Valencia, something that the visitors had threatened several times previously.
The Whites were then fortunate to escape a couple of strong penalty appeals from Welbeck and Ashley Young, tackled clumsily by Senderos and Ruiz respectively, with the Swiss doing well for once as he put in a vital block on a Valencia cross that was headed towards Rooney.
The hapless Senderos’s next intervention was not so useful, however, as – from a quick counter-attack – Giggs sent a shot against the former Arsenal stopper’s lunging block, the deflection looping over a stranded David Stockdale and into the net for 3-0 before half-time.
Fulham started the second half promisingly though as Johnson and Ruiz made interesting runs, while Dempsey’s header was kept out by Lindegaard and Dembele fired just wide soon after.
After Giggs fouled Dembele 20 yards out, John Arne Riise fired a free-kick inches wide with Lindegaard well beaten as Fulham looked the more likely in the second half.
Despite Fulham’s resurgence one could sense United were just looking for the break, and they almost nabbed a fourth but for an excellent point-blank Stockdale save as Nani met Valencia’s low cross.
Rooney then had an effort deflected wide off Senderos with Stockdale again stranded, with Welbeck doing likewise via Baird as United clicked back into gear.
They were exchanging attacks now: Fulham had a penalty appeal of their own rejected when Dempsey went down under pressure from Valencia, while the American had a finish blocked after he and Dembele ran rings round the United defence; down the other end, Welbeck was guilty of a bad miss after Nani sent him clean through, lofting his finish over Stockdale and the bar.
Johnson made a boo-boo of his own when he blasted over soon afterwards, having been played in by a delightful Dempsey pass. With 12 minutes remaining it would likely have been consolation, but Fulham have put in some good late comebacks against United in the past and Martin Jol’s frustration was tangible.
The former Everton striker continued to show his lack of confidence in front of goal when he fired straight at Lindegaard after again being played in by Dempsey, who may have been better off shooting from range.
Bobby Zamora, benched after missing the last game through injury, came on for a late cameo and he almost created one for Johnson, who again blasted wide from a good position.
Johnson also saw a late effort spilled by Lindegaard, but United survived that and went on to add two more goals of the highest quality.
First Rooney swerved home a magical effort from long range, sending it inside and out before nestling past the flying Stockdale and inside the right-hand post.
And, on the stroke of 90 minutes and in the immediate aftermath of Johnson’s final miss, Berbatov cheekily backheeled the ball into the bottom right after Valencia’s driven cross found him six yards out.
The big win closes some of the goal difference on league leaders City, who themselves won 3-0 at home to Stoke, while Fulham lie four points above the drop zone.