Manchester United 3-2 Fulham
Man Utd scorers:
Robin van Persie (10); Shinji Kagawa (35); Rafael (41)
Damien Duff (3); Nemanja Vidic OG (64)
A dab of valiance, a pinch of creativity and a touch of bravery. All, however, still not enough to beat Manchester United. We had our moments, though, and at times we were at least particularly good value for a draw. Moussa Dembele bossed not only the midfield, but the match itself, which will go a long way to increasing the already hefty price tag hanging round his neck, while Matthew Briggs, drafted in as cover for the injured John Arne Riise, very much had a game of two halves; one nervy, one composed.
Ultimately, though, we did lose and it was a nasty, sordid half an hour which proved our downfall. With Wayne Rooney dropped to the bench, Robin van Persie was leading the line for the home side and he opened his new account in fashionable style. He directed, beautifully, a whipped ball from the left into Mark Schwarzer's left hand corner and United were galvanised, and now level, after falling to an early Damien Duff goal for Fulham.
That opener had come against the run of play and that became yet more obvious when Shinji Kagawa put Sir Alex Ferguson's side into the lead. There were claims of offside, but they were unfounded. Tom Cleverley had fired a long range effort at goal and Schwarzer could only parry into Kagawa's path. He slotted home with ease and the onslaught unfortunately continued.
Old Trafford was roaring once again when Brazillian right back Rafael rolled the ball into an empty net but that attempt was judged offside. Not long, though, before he claimed his goal. He headed home an Ashley Young cross and their dominance was finally represented by the scoreline. Fulham looked overawed, messy and, most of all, beaten.
Tempo lulling after the break, Martin Jol's side finally began to have an imprint on the game. Michael Carrick looked on edge as he headed a cross onto the roof of his own net. Alex Kacaniklic had provided the tempting ball and he was yet again showing maturity and talent beyond his years. Dembele aside, he was one of Fulham's best performers on the day.
He was withdrawn before long, though, replaced by Steve Sidwell, and soon after, the away side were gifted a root back into the game. Briggs, eventually showing that he was capable of playing against this potent United side, put in a ball that had Nemanja Vidic and goalkeeper David de Gea in a haze. It hit the Serbian on the leg and crossed the line.
Now it was Fulham who were galvanized and Dembele was leading the troops. Clearly keen to impress the watching Ferguson, he was doing his usual thing with an extra degree of elegance and panache, dictating play with aplomb in the centre of the park. He fired one in from 30 odd yards but de Gea was equal to it, eager to make up for his earlier error.
Later, he stormed through the United penalty area through a mixture of luck and skill, before poking a ball through at goal that, yet again, de Gea stopped. United were on the back foot, at Old Trafford, and were scrapping to keep ahold of their tender lead.
The Belgain midfielder was yet again involved in Fulham's closing move, sprinting down the right and efficiently beating two players before providing an expertly pinpoint cross. It landed on the head of Bryan Ruiz but the effort was saved, again. Fulham were dogged and had the home side in certain fear, but couldn't capitalise.
No points, but plenty else to take from Old Trafford. Not least the idea that Manchester United were, for 20 minutes at least, running scared.