Wayne Rooney came up trumps for Manchester United with a late winner in a 1-0 Premier League victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
United rode their luck in a topsy-turvy match. The woodwork was hit four times in the first half, while the league leaders twice had to clear goalbound headers off the line, including one in stoppage time.
The eventful encounter was also delayed by a floodlight failure on the cusp of half time, but in the end it was a moment of composure and class from Rooney that settled the match.
He pounced on a loose ball on the left 79 minutes in, then stroked a finish into the far corner beyond the dive of Mark Schwarzer.
With Manchester City not in action until Sunday, United stretch their lead to 10 points in the title race.
Sir Alex Ferguson named an aggressive-looking side, with Rooney and Robin Van Persie both starting, and Nani and Antonio Valencia on the wings.
Fulham left new arrival Urby Emanuelson on the bench, and opted for Hugo Rodallega and Bryan Ruiz in partnership up front.
The game was wide open almost immediately. Ashkhan Dejagah had a shot saved after Rodallega broke through the United defence.
At the other end Patrice Evra missed a gift-wrapped opportunity to poke home after eight minutes, scooping the ball on to the bar from close range after Mark Schwarzer had made a terrific save to deny an own goal from Brede Hangeland.
Fulham roared forward – John Arne Riise drew a save from 25 yards via a dipping shot, then only a fabulous fingertip stop from David De Gea denied Ruiz the opener from 20 yards, the ball touched on to the post and going clear.
It was then the visitors’ turn to go close once more – Hangeland again almost put the ball into his own net, his header hitting the angle of the post and crossbar.
Rooney struck the upright once more, going close to rounding off a slick team move involving Nani and Tom Cleverley with a placed, curling finish.
The only thing that could slow the game down came on 43 minutes when the floodlights failed. There were ironic cheers, then a series of pictures of the darkness taken on fans’ smartphones. When the play resumed after a delay of around 12 minutes, the match petered out into the interval.
And the second half continued at a similar pace. Van Persie showed ingenuity to get to the byline and tee up Nani, but Chris Baird blocked his effort as Fulham settled back into a rhythm.
With the introduction of Emanuelson, the Cottagers started to look very dangerous, and in a flurry of chances with less than 20 minutes to go they should have gone ahead.
Sascha Riether’s long-distance shot was parried by David De Gea, and Ruiz was close to the rebound. Dejagah then nearly nodded in a flowing counter-attack moments later.
Ruiz had the best chance of the lot, getting the final touch on a corner, heading towards the far corner, only for Rafael to clear.
And two minutes later, out of nothing, Rooney broke through and finished smartly.
Fulham still didn’t give up – they pushed forward for an equaliser, and two minutes into injury time Van Persie saved United’s bacon by heading Philippe Senderos’ goalbound effort off the line.
But with another victory in the bank, there appears to be very little standing in the way of Manchester United and a 20th top flight crown.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United): Back in the goals for his club, and hit the winner in a strong all-round display.
FULHAM: Schwarzer 8, Reither 7, Senderos 7, Hangeland 6, Riise 7, Karagounis 7, Baird 7, Duff 6 , Dejagah 7, Ruiz 7, Rodallega 6 - Subs - Petric N/A, Emanuelson 7, Hughes 6
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 8, Rafael 7, Ferdinand 7, Evans 8, Evra 7, Carrick 7, Cleverley 6, Nani 6, Rooney 8, Valencia 6, van Persie 7 - Subs - Giggs 6, Hernandez 6, Welbeck N/A
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