By Robert Morris
Manchester United travelled to Craven Cottage without Wayne Rooney, who had been suffering from a stomach bug. Sir Alex Ferguson called upon Javier Hernandez over Michael Owen; handing the Mexican his first league start. There was no Mark Schwarzer in goal for Fulham, instead the gloves were given to the young David Stockdale.; the Australian keeper now seems set on joining Arsenal in the next couple of days.
In what was an open first-half, Manchester United started lively, controlling the game and keeping much of the possession. Dimitar Berbatov was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet for the second time this season as his acrobatic shot was pushed over by the outstretched hand of the Fulham goalkeeper. However, United didn’t have to wait long for the breakthrough as a low cross from Luis Valencia found Berbatov who teed up Paul Scholes to drill a sensational shot home from 25 yards. It was the veteran’s 150th goal in all competitions for the Red Devils. Despite conceding, Fulham kept their heads and sought an equaliser. The Lilywhites looked comfortable pushing men forward on the counter attack, utilising the aerial threat of Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey. Before long it was United who were pushing for a second as Hernandez and Berbatov linked up well, with the former fizzing a shot just wide. Typically of this high-tempo fixture, Fulham responded with a great chance which fell to the Nigerian Dickson Etuhu, but his low shot was denied by a great double save by Edwin Van der Saar. The second-half continued in much the same vein as Fulham looked to penetrate United’s defence. They didn’t have to wait long as Damien Duff cleverly span Patrice Evra on the left flank and then pulled the ball back for the onrushing Simon Davies to slam home. Just minutes later Fulham were unlucky to not be awarded a penalty as Nemanja Vidic pulled Moussa Dembele over inside the area. This end-to-end affair continued throughout the game as both teams had their fair share of chances to take the lead. Instead, it was a slice of luck that saw the Reds take a 2-1 advantage as Ryan Giggs whipped in a dangerous corner, taking a nasty deflection off the shin of Brede Hangeland. Fulham would have been disappointed not to have cleared the ball as there were few United bodies in the box.
Manchester United were given an opportunity to seal the three points as the ref pointed to the spot after Damien Duff had harshly been ruled to have handled the ball. Nani’s penalty was tame and was brushed away by David Stockdale; capping a final display for the keeper. This gave Fulham the impetus to push on and grab a point, and they did so late into the game. Brede Hangeland (photo), at fault for the own-goal, redeemed himself in the 90th minute by leaping high into the air to pile driver a header past Van der Saar.
Sir Alex Ferguson will have to settle for a point; however he will be disappointed to find his side trailing two points behind champions Chelsea, just two games into the Premier League season.