Sir Alex Ferguson's brave decision to drop Wayne Rooney from his starting line-up paid off as new boys Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa scored in Manchester United's come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Fulham.
Rooney paid the price for a below-par performance in the defeat at Everton on Monday. And whilst it is viewed as a reminder from Ferguson that standards have to be higher, the respective performances of Van Persie and Kagawa were such that Rooney cannot be guaranteed a recall at Southampton next week.
United collected all three points as the first-half response of Van Persie, Kagawa and Rafael to Damien Duff's second-minute effort proved enough despite a Nemanja Vidic own goal.
Rooney, however, will not be fit for the game at St Mary's after sustaining a nasty gash in stoppage time after being trodden on by Hugo Rodallega - an incident which left United to play out the game with 10 men.
Kagawa excelled in the hole behind the main striker. His movement, speed and passing kept Fulham on the back foot. Van Persie levelled with the clinical efficiency you would expect of a Golden Boot winner. Meeting Patrice Evra's left-wing cross perfectly, the Dutchman flashed a shot wide of Mark Schwarzer.
From that point on it was a case of when, rather than if, the hosts would gain the initiative. As Kagawa prompted and cajoled, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia both went close.
But when Van Persie's corner was half-cleared to Tom Cleverley, Schwarzer could only turn the midfielder's shot into the path of Kagawa, who - profiting from Sascha Riether's failure to get out of the six-yard box quickly - swept home from close range.
Restored to the starting line-up following his Olympic campaign with Brazil, Rafael provided additional defensive security. He also had a goal correctly ruled out for offside before nodding home Young's chip to the far post just before the break.
Yet, for all United's attacking endeavours, there remain serious flaws at the back amid a massive injury list. Once again pressed into service as an emergency centre-half, Michael Carrick came far too close to turning the ball into his own net for comfort.
And when United conceded a second, it was almost laughable as David de Gea came to punch Matthew Briggs' cross, got nowhere near it and the ball eventually bounced off Vidic and rolled in.
- Shinji Kagawa
- Wayne Rooney
- Sir Alex Ferguson
- Manchester United