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It was moments like this Edinson Cavani was told he must experience before leaving Manchester United. When his future was in the balance, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s bargaining chip was the Stretford End packed with fans.
As it turns out, the supporters were socially distanced and reduced in number but the roar felt like Old Trafford at capacity. They saw a goal of sheer beauty, a wondrous lob from Cavani that had spectators out of the seats they had vacated for 14 months.
It was the perfect way to welcome fans back to stadiums. The protocols and staggered arrival times were worth it for the 10,000 lucky enough to be drawn out of the ballot. In a match with nothing at stake, it was the important moment and it mattered little that Joe Bryan levelled to share the points.
For Cavani, it was his first meeting with United’s fans and an unforgettable one. For seven months he has played behind closed doors, his partner and daughter away from the rest of the family and tempted by a return to South America with Boca Juniors. This goal was what he had joined United for.
“The way he took the chance was amazing,” said Solskjaer. “It was very composed. I’m very pleased for the Stretford Enders that they can experience that on his first meeting between them and Edi.
“The buzz and the energy was magic, really. You could feel it in the warm-up and we have really missed it.”
Cavani’s 16th goal of the season came from 40 yards out after Bruno Fernandes had split the Fulham defence by deceiving Tosin Adarabioyo with an attempted flick. Cavani had a clear run on goal but saw Alphonse Areola off his line and reached for the pitching wedge, his chip measured to perfection.
As he wheeled away he cupped his ears to the fans, asking for more noise. Making sure of the full fan experience, boos rang out as VAR looked at Cavani’s position. He would only have been onside if Fernandes touched the ball, which was unclear. But this was a goal of such artistry that it could crash computers.
Before Cavani’s goal, fans had got to their seats in good time due to social-distancing measures. There was a smattering of green and gold, United’s fans nod to the past, and anti-Glazer songs.
Football is back but the fans have not forgotten that while they were away, the club’s American owners tried to break away into the European Super League. There was no demonstration on the Old Trafford forecourt but “We want Glazers out” was a chant that gathered momentum in the first half.
Fernandes got the biggest cheer when his name was read out on the public speaker, and the Portugal midfielder was in the heart of the action. His “assist” for the opener was down to his clever play, whether he touched it or not.
"Honestly I didn't feel the touch,” said Fernandes. “The referee said I touched the ball. How it is, I don't care honestly. I always say the most important goal is the one that hits the net, it doesn't matter who gets the goal or the assist."
He was everywhere on the pitch, forcing a save from Areola at one end and getting booked for hauling back Fabio Carvalho at the other.
The slow pace of the game was expected from a team already relegated against one who had secured a top-four finish and had a Europa League final in a week. Still, Solskjaer made an intriguing call by recalling David De Gea after mainly playing him in Europe since his paternity leave.
De Gea saved well from 18-year-old Carvalho, then pulled off a double-save in the second half from Ademola Lookman and Ivan Cavaleiro. But he could not deny Bryan when he got on the end of Bobby Decordova-Reid’s cross, earning a point for Scott Parker’s team.
“We came here and played like a big team,” said Parker. “We had to be courageous. It's a difficult place to come, Old Trafford, let alone today with 10,000 fans in. I understand we're judged on a win and a loss but in terms of the performance it's been there.
“I'm reluctant to say we've been unlucky this season but there have been moments when we were. I'd hold my hands up if this team was getting pumped every week but that has not been the case."
At the final whistle Solskjaer addressed the fans, telling them they wanted to bring a trophy home for them next week. “It’s been a long, long year for everyone,” he said. Later he added that this could be a wake-up call ahead of their final.
“We tried to do the flicks and fancy stuff, extraordinary stuff, the things that pleased the fans,” he said. “That is not us. We should be more efficient. Look at Edi, how he plays the game, back tackles, runs, goals. No fluff. You can't have fluff in a game of football.”
Solskjaer would not be drawn on Kane’s situation but refused to rule out a move for a striker this summer despite Cavani extending his contract for a year.
“Of course Edi signed but how many good strikers have we had at this club?” he said. “I can’t say we’re not signing a striker, of course not. Because we are working towards a better squad, we’re top three two years on the bounce and not where we want to be.
“Hopefully we’ll have a stronger squad for the start of next season and be more consistent.”
Full time: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
A lovely goal from Cavani: offside on a technicality but who cares, really. Fulham, though, fought back well and managed to level it. If the 10,000 United fans were hoping that their heroes would raise their game, they didn't. Fulham had parity, at least, in the final 10 or 15 minutes.
90+4 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
"It has been a poor response from United to Fulham equalising," says Gary Neville. Fulham's keeper is booked for time-wasting. Is there going to be one last attack from United? No. No there is not.
90+3 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
Nevertheless, it's Fulham who are enjoying the ball and the territory in the last couple of minutes.
90+1 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
Dismal freekick from Fulham, who play it short and then lose it. Get it in the mixer for heaven's sake!
89 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
Luke Shaw clips Tete. Referee Mason books the United player. Mason's retiring after this game. Trivia question? I hope not. Not unless you are leading a seriously ref-focused life.
Anyway, Fulham have got a freekick. Four minutes added.
87 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
Cavani, who provided the evening's memorable moment with a lovely, lovely offside lob of the Fulham keeper, is coming off.
They give Donny van de Beek a brief refresher on the rules of the game, can't use your hands, match lasts 90 minutes and however long our manager wants it to etc etc etc.
85 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
A handful of United fans are leaving. Unclear if they are legacy fans or fans of the future.
84 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
Messy little spell. Fred drives towards goal, Lemina stops him with a fantastic tackle. Brave, diving in, when on a yellow card. I thought he got the ball.
It's not done Fred any favours. Ouch.
82 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
Fulham have got the wind between their teeth here, and their sails are up. Good spell for them.
Diallo is on for the disappointing Greenwood.
79 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
Fernandes is determined to get himself on that score sheet by h or by c. He has produced a good bit of skill, and sends his man the wrong way, before shooting at a friendly height for the keeper.
76 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 1
United have had their chances to wrap this up but Fulham are back in it.
GOAL! Manchester United 1 Fulham 1 (Bryan 74)
Fulham have it in the net. They are checking for offside. Bobby D-Reid gets down the right flank and plays it in. Joe Bryan nuts the ball into the net. The question is whether De Cordova-Reid is onside when he gets the ball on the right wing. It looks like Wan-Bissaka, over on the near side, has played REid on - as well as losing the man he should be marking.... the goalscorer Joe Bryan!
73 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
United open Fulham up here. Nice move, and Greenwood is sent through by ?Cavani, and tries to open his body up as he hits it with the left. But he manages only to dab it at the keeper. Fernandes, following up, lashes it wild and wide.
71 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
United have put Fulham right back under pressure here and the second goal of this match looks very much more likely to come from a red shirt. Bruno F drives forward, plays it inside to Mason G, but he is mobbed.
67 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Rashford with a beautiful piece of skill, he flicks it with his right and then hi right again, changing the direction of the ball at a blurring pace. Andersen brings him down on the edge of the box. Fernandes delivers the freekick, which is dangerous but clears.
United recycle the ball, and keep the move alive. Fernandes delivers it from the left, Mason Greenwood is in! Ah he just needed to stick out his leg. Didnae gamble
65 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Fulham have a freekick, United make a bit of a meal of clearing it. Drops to Lemina, who tries another effort from range but this one is also miles off target.
Fulham having 65% of the ball in the last ten minutes.
63 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Carvalho, who looks a very moderate officer to me, is coming off and Ruben Loftus-Cheek comes on. Poor Ruben, his star has really fallen hasn't it?
61 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
McTominay is coming off, looking a bit jaded. Rashford comes on and goes out to the left. Pogba will play centre mid.
59 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Fulham playing the ball attractively.
It looks to be going nowhere but suddenly they produce an excellent move. Lookman down the left, tries to mug De Gea at the near post. Good stop De Gea! And he denies Fulham from the follow-up header as well.
57 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Greenwood looking really lively, causing problems. Rashford is warming up on the touchline. United have a couple of corners.
54 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Lemina having a big few minutes there. He muscles Greenwood out in the Fulham area, and then embarks on an eccentric dribble across his own six yard box, with Cavani scenting blood.
53 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Anyway, Lemina had fouled McTominay, going into the book. Fernandes had a go from the freekick and wasn't far off.
52 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Yep, that's it. A few more chants of "we want Glazers out".
51 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
I'd read before the game that United were planning a protest on 51 minutes, but it amounts to little more than a portion of the crowd chanting (if I am hearing it right) "We want Glazers out".
50 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Fulham came out quite fired up but to be honest, United look to have weathered that.. storm? Not really sure it was troubling the Beaufort Scale. They've weathered that shower.
47 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Early freekick for Fulham, half cleared by Pogba. Lamina has the effort from distance but if he's looking to add an Old Trafford goal to the Anfield one on his CV, he'll have to hit them more accurately than that.
Tuanzebe stumbles and Cavaleiro could be in but he cannot make much of the moment.
46 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Fulham get going, and hit it long.
Still debating whether Bruno touched that
Also on tonight
is the Chelsea and Leicester match that will obviously go a long way to settling who goes to the ALL IMPORTANT Champions League.
Half time: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
A truly glorious goal, albeit one that was probably offside, and large periods of United dominance. Fulham look like what they are: a team with some nice ball players who cannot score. United should wrap this up without too much difficulty.
45 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
The director summons a crowd shot, and this passionate fanbase, this much-wronged army of loyal etc etc and so on are doing what many football fans entirely justifiably do during football matches some of the time: they are on their phone. Three shots of texting people in three seconds.
Shaw powers forward with the ball, and eschewing better placed colleagues inside, whacks a shot well wide. Cavani gives him a long, thoughtful look.
42 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
More United pressure. Fulham half clear a corner, Lookman hands it to to Fernandes on a plate. He drills it hard and low but the keeper's equal to the task.
40 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Greenwood has waved an arm into the face of Bryan, who is coming off, bleeding. I think they'll patch him up ok.
38 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Oh it should be 1-1! A wonderful pass from Lookman, and Carvalho takes it with a lovely first touch, under pressure from Lindelof he fires low, but De Gea can get down to stop it. Should really have tucked that away.
That pass from Lookman was delightful. Split the defence down the middle and the forward was away.
37 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
United have a corner. Andersen clears it.
35 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
United getting a little bit casual in the last few minutes.
30 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Harrison Reed is limping off, Andersen is coming on.
25 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Nice back heel from McTominay, and Fernandes cracks a drive at the goal. Good move.
21 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Cavani probably was offside. He was offside when the goalie hit the ball, but onside when Fernandes played him in. Point is, on further look, it doesn't appear that Fernandes DID touch it. So Cavani was offside but the ref failed to spot it. Old Trafford truly is back!
18 mins: Manchester United 1 Fulham 0
Good move from Fulham this though. A break, a pass cuts United open. Cavaleiro is running powerfully down the inside left channel, Bruno trips him. Cynical. Yellow.
GOAL! Manchester United 1 Fulham 0 (Cavani 15)
Oh that is beautiful! Cavani has chipped the keeper from 35 yards. De Gea plays it long. Bruno Fernandes flicks it onto Cavani with one little touch and Cavani has lobbed the keeper from a mile out.
VAR does its best to ruin a wonderful, inspiring, pure moment. But after drawing the imaginary lines on the screen, we are allowed to have this nice thing.
13 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
Wan-Bissaka crosses, Tosin with a small touch on Cavani. Cavani then goes down rather cheaply. Nobody is fooled by that. A corner nevertheless. Fulham repel that.
11 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
Fernandes convinces Luke Shaw to let him take a freekick on the right but can do little with it.
10 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
United's Lindelof hits it long, looking for Bruno. Fulham goalie Areola gathers.
8 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
United starting to dominate this. Pogba looks at it. Fred caught well offside as he delivers a cross from the left.
6 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
Wan-Bissaka finds some room down the right. Pogba gets up well at the back post, has the beating of Reid, who didn't do brilliantly. Poggers heads over.
5 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
Little on-pitch action to tell you about as of yet. Bobby Reid with a threatening dart of a run. Cleared.
3 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
Cavani with a poor touch and loses it.
2 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
Good atmosphere. Sounds like a few legacy fans have snuck in. Regrettable for the ownership but there you go. United play it around at the back. Pogba with a risky pass across the back line.
1 mins: Manchester United 0 Fulham 0
Man United kick off. Red shirts, white shorts. Fulham all in yellow. A florescent, almost green hue.
Each of the United guys
getting a good cheer from their supporters as they are introduced. De Gea applauds the fans. The players take the knee. One or two boos.
Players are out on the pitch
To be fair to the 10,000 United fans in the ground, they are making a noise a fair bit louder than that. 436 days since there were fans at this ground. Well,
The players are about ready
for the 6pm kick off. It's second plays already relegated: United have little to play for in all honesty but certain of their number - not least David De Gea - will be wanting to force their way into the XI for the Europa League final.
that's enough pictures of football fans. Let's have some football.
And still they come
"I want us to be competitive but also have an eye on players who will be at the club next season."
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
"Good to see them. This is the first step on the road to normal football. Our fans are the best ones, they will support the team and be behind the team."
On picking De Gea: "My keeper for the final? It is up for grabs. It is important to have two keepers ready for the final."
The United players
are out on the pitch and are getting a big cheer from their fans.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer makes three changes
Axel Tuanzebe lines up in defence in place of Eric Bailly, while Mason Greenwood and David De Gea replace Marcus Rashford and Dean Henderson.
Fulham bring in Tim Ream, Joe Bryan, Mario Lemina and Ademola Lookman.
Nice interview that
Good job from Gary.
Gary Neville talking to Sir Alex Ferguson
on Sky Sports.
"Players I had to deal with were not from the working class that I was from. I used to insitll in them that working hard was a real talent. You may not have been working class but your fathers or grandfathers were. So even the most talented player has to be willing to work as hard as anyone."
"When I became a manager I thought this would be easy. Lost my first away game 5-2. And I knew then I had to get a working mentality."
"I'd lie in my bed at night thinking of ways to motivate players. If you are at a club for 27 years. You don't want players to think 'here we go again'."
"Eric Harrison and myself we would work to develop the mental strength. The preparation and education that players get at United."
"Darren Fletcher, Steve Bruce, yourself. The determination, the fire inside you to get the most out. Players like Giggs, Cantona, they have to show that they have the same desire to work as players like you.
"I liked to see myself in the players. My expectation, my attitude was always to win every game."
"Risk should be always be there. If you score in the last minute, the atmosphere was electric in the dressing room. And the fan, he cannot wait to get in the pub, talk about the game, go home and tell the wife and the kids what happened at Old Trafford."
explains that there will be c 1,000 in the executive area, then 9,000 in the lower tiers on three sides of the ground.
There may be a protest on 51 minutes.
Both buses got through fine. Those allowed into the ground have to use QR codes and photo ID to get in there.
Sky Sports reporter James Cooper
"Security and police here in numbers, but there are an awful lot of fans who just want to watch Man United after a 14 month wait. There has been some green and gold, some placards, some banners but none of the real protests that we have seen over the last fortnight."
Authorities out in numbers
A start for Cavani
meaning a rest for Rashford, well on the bench to start with at least.
Man Utd: de Gea, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Tuanzebe, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Pogba, Cavani. Subs: Bailly, Mata, Rashford, Diallo, Henderson, Alex Telles, Matic, Williams, van de Beek.
Fulham: Areola, Ream, Adarabioyo, Bryan, Carvalho, Reed, Lemina, Reid, Lookman, Zambo, Ivan Cavaleiro. Subs: Tete, Hector, Odoi, Andersen, Rodak, Loftus-Cheek, Onomah, Maja, Aina.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
Pooter breaks silence
Well it's a cauldron there by the looks of it
Back back back
This clever young person
is going for a 4-6-4-6 formation to propel United to glory.
Luke Shaw on Sky Sports
"I was sat next to Donny van de Beek on the coach and he has not played in front of fans here before so he was excited to play in front of the fans here."
of the Man United Supporters Trust talks to Sky Sports.
"The difference is that we have got 10,000 in the stadium today. We want it to be done peacefully. We don't want anyone to suffer sanctions. We want to get our message over peacefully."
Pictures there on
the tellybox of United players at the ground.
United fans outside the ground
Pictures coming through
Fans are back at OT
Manchester United at home
Good afternoon, and welcome to our live blog of Manchester United vs Fulham, which is a 6pm tonight. The team news for that Premier Legaue fixture will be with us at 5pm, and in the meanwhile we will be bringing you build-up of the game.
Fans, of course, protested at the Liverpool match a couple of weekends ago to the extent that the game was called off. They had a right good go at getting the re-arranged match cancelled as well but that did go ahead in the end, and United might have wished it hadn't: they got pumped 4-2 at home by Liverpool. OGS felt that the fan protests negatively affected his team, although to be fair fixture pile up hasn't helped.
On another United front, some excellent quotes form King Eric Cantona, who has become the third player to be inducted into the Premier League's Hall of Fame after Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry.
Cantona won four league titles in five seasons at United, scoring 70 goals in 156 league appearances.
"I am very happy and very proud, but at the same time I am not surprised," he said, modestly.
Fulham, meanwhile, have slipped without much fuss out the bottom of the Premier League. They played some nice football at times between the boxes but too many defensive errors and a near total inability to find someone who could kick it in the net, well, they added up to a pretty obvious relegation. I remember blogging a game early in the season where their defence was honestly as bad as I have ever seen at this level. It seems like Scott Parker will be given a chance to get them back up.
United are second on 70 points, and with third and fourth contesting the match at 8.15pm, they cannot be caught by both Chelsea AND Leicester. So Champions League football is assured.