Date:Sunday February 25 2007
Manchester United are nine points clear of Chelsea on the table following the 2-1 victory at Fulham - one of the most exhausting games of the season.
Surely, we could expect Fulham to go for a resounding revenge as the 5-1 drubbing they received at Old Trafford is still a vivid memory for Chris Coleman's side. What I did not expect was their excellent football but their attacking play often stretched our shaky defense towards breaking point.
They were lively, aggressive (too aggressive - Michael Brown and Pape Bouba Diop both could have been sent off and they couldn't have had any complaints) and aided by uncharacteristic errors from Van der Sar and Vidic, they were wreaking havoc every time they got near our penalty area.
Their goal was as comical as deserved but the United of 2007 are not a team that would collapse. They rallied soon after the setback and the match became a pulsating and breathtaking event. It was what we would usually expect of Premiership games.
Passion, tricks, tackles, everything were there and on the day, Fulham proved to be equal in every department. Of course, sheer class was still on the visitors' side and they converted that: Rooney's glorious cross found Giggs at the far post and the Welshman struck into the opposing corner of the net with the outside of his foot.
The gritty determination that was the hallmark of the best United teams was clearly seen on the faces of the players after the equalizer as they set out to get another goal to take the all important three points.
Fulham did not hide to read newspapers in an empty corner, of course. On the contrary they should have reclaimed the lead early in the second half but Radzinski's header came back off the bar. It was an even greater chance than Evra's at the end of the first half and the French defender also failed to convert his opportunity, despite that he scored from exactly the same position against Everton.
United's British army - Rooney, Giggs and Scholes - continued to excel and the Reds took control. It was not one-way traffic but the visitors looked more likely to score and take the lead, especially after the introduction of Saha who could always be found - unlike Henrik Larsson who was invisible throughout the game but still played 90 minutes. I think he would be more useful as a sub but it's possible that Fergie is trying to keep Saha fit for the hectic period of March and April.
I did not agree with substituting Carrick but United remained in control. However, as the clock was nearing 90 minutes, I prepared to accept it would be a draw.
Fortunately I do not play for Manchester United and the lads who do are a lot tougher than me. We chased that winning goal and found it - and it was a fitting climax of an excellent game.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a quiet afternoon, he was not at his usual blistering best but in the 88th minute, he produced a little bit of magic, beating three man starting from the halfway line to score a memorable goal. The celebrations said it all: everyone, including subs, coaches, the kitman were on top of each other, almost strangling Ronaldo. They knew that this goal could be one of the most important goals of the season.
So we should forget that our defense was ripped open repeatedly and we lacked stability. We won a bloody tough away game so we're 90 minutes closer to our dream. If we blow it, I promise one thing: I won't question the lads' passion and spirit. Nobody should do that.
Date:Sunday February 25 2007
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