Date:Tuesday December 4 2007
Well, it wasn't the performance of the season. I was glad when the starting line-up was announced: we played our strongest possible side, with Rooney back in the fold and Anderson alongside Hargreaves again. It boded well for us as this eleven looked deadly all the time they played together.
Poor Fulham with their wretched away record had to realise quickly that they were in for a long, long night here. Tevez could have scored a hat-trick in the first seven minutes but for bad aim, hesitant finishing and good goalkeeping from Niemi.
The breakthrough arrived soon enough but as United's build-up play was brilliant in the first few minutes, the goal itself was a bit scrappy as the desperately clueless defenders could not clear the ball after a corner and finally, it found its way to Ronaldo who unleashed a ferocious shot into the far corner. Brilliant individual effort, woeful defending.
The rest of the first half passed with me making gloomy predictions about an imminent equaliser as United simply went to sleep. We kept the ball well and Fulham could not create chances yet it would be foolish to deny that the swagger of the first 10 minutes was gone immediately after the opening goal. Of course, such was the sheer quality we had on the pitch that we could not help creating chances and Tevez really should have scored after being set up brilliantly by the bright Ryan Giggs. Niemi, however, was equal to the Argentinian's effort once more.
It has to be said that Fulham went close on a couple of occasions. Danny Murphy, booed heartily whenever he touched the ball, had a good effort from 20 yards that has been tipped wide by van der Sar and Kuqi should have found the net following a teasing cross from, I think, Davies. But all in all, Fulham could be grateful being only one down at the interval and we all though the lads were going to be shaken to life by the boss.
We'll never know if he attempted to do it but there were no signs of purpose as United came out to spend 45 minutes comfortably on the pitch, preferably without too much physical effort involved. OK, maybe I'm being a bit harsh as there was enough running and all those things: the spark, the creativity, the sense of purpose was lacking. Not that Fulham were great: they kept the ball well but failed to threaten Van der Sar as our central midfield of Hargreaves and Anderson dominated proceedings again. They have a knack of stuffing the life out of other teams and launching attacks with great vigour and it's pleasing to see.
But of course neither of our brilliant central midfielders was the star of the show. That title belongs to Ronaldo once again: he was irresistible, tormented everyone who dared to come up against him and again showed that his finishing matches his dribbling as jumped to the stratosphere to head in O'Shea's great cross.
With the second goal in the net, the game was over as a contest and the most meaningful event was seeing Rooney boiling over on a number of occasions about perceivedly wrong offside decisions. He also missed an unbelievable chance when scuffed the ball almost to throw in from 10 yards after Tevez set him up nicely. When Fergie eventually called him off, he did not look happy at all.
I had the feeling that Styles would do everyone a favour by blowing his whistle as players seemed to be longing for the warm dressing-room and looked like people who felt it pointless to run around in the freezing cold with the game effectively over. However, my perceptions were proved to be inaccurate as United, inexplicably, sprang to life for the last quarter of an hour.
Ronaldo, Saha (in for Rooney) and Tevez all missed great chances to add a third and put the icing on the cake (albeit a not too delicious one). And of course controversy arrived, too, no United game would be the same without these incidents. Ronaldo was in the centre of attention again of course as he raced on to Saha's clever through ball. The pass was a bit too strong yet he controlled it with seeming ease and tried to round Niemi who came out flying, arms flapping in the air. The Portuguese lost his balance as he tried to jump over the keeper, tumbled and fell over.
Now I won't say it should have been a penalty. Had Ronaldo left his leg on the ground, it would have been a clear cut one but he wanted to convert his chance and didn't want to win a penalty. However, he could not stay on his feet with Niemi coming out: he lost his balance. Giving a yellow card for diving.... well, I should have expected it from Styles.
But this little incident matters little: United, nowhere near their best, won comfortably and should have scored more. We are back in second place and Arsenal have two away games coming up. So life's good, isn't it?
Date:Tuesday December 4 2007
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