Manchester United recorded back-to-back wins in the Premier League for the first time under David Moyes courtesy of a 3-1 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday. Goals from Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney effectively made the points safe by the 22nd minute, but United took their foot off the gas and an improved Fulham came back into the match in the second half. And Alexander Kacaniklic strike that deflected in off Rooney was ultimately all the hosts had to show for their efforts.
Targeting more consistency from his side in order to move up the Premier League table, Moyes will be happy with the three points and the manner in which they cut Fulham apart in the early going. Yet, he will surely also have concerns at just how dramatically they faded as a force and were unable to regain control once Fulham stepped up their game. Indeed, the home side could even have made the last minutes far more uncomfortable had they taken one or two of the other chances that came their way.
In contrast, Martin Jol will walk away encouraged by the way his side came back into the match, although frustrated that the same problems that have plagued Fulham throughout the season ultimately prevented them from taking anything out of the contest.
On the back of two disappointing defeats and performances against Southampton and then Championship side Leicester City, Jol will surely have at least wanted a display of real character. Instead, his game plan was rendered meaningless inside the opening minutes.
A lack of pressure on the ball combined with trying to play a high defensive line is almost always a fatal combination and so it proved time and again for Fulham. First, on nine minutes Van Persie was able to comfortably hold the ball up with his back to goal before turning and playing a through ball that found Philippe Senderos snoozing, allowing Rooney to run through. The forward took his time before rolling it across the six-yard box for an unchecked Valencia to tap home.
It looked all too easy for the visitors, an appearance that became ever more apparent as United scored twice more in the space of three minutes. Again, Fulham played a large part in their downfall. In fairness, Fulham could have complaints about refereeing decisions that first failed to grant them a free-kick as Scott Parker went down under, admittedly minimal, contact from Adnan Januzaj and then saw an offside flag not raised from the teenager’s pass through to Van Persie. Both were marginal calls that could have gone either way, but this was not Fulham’s day and Van Persie made no mistake when through on goal and lashed the ball into the roof of the net.
The third goal was arguably the simplest of the lot. Fulham’s offside trap again failed miserably, this time with Sascha Riether playing Van Persie onside and the Dutchman put a low cross through the legs of Fernando Amorebieta for Rooney to convert from a couple of yards out.
The damage had been done, but for United the trouble was they appeared to believe that the job had already been completed. The visitors eased up far too much, although it wasn’t until the second half that Fulham began to capitalize. Moyes had made three changes at the break, with Rafael, Jonny Evans and Tom Cleverley replaced by Chris Smalling, Marouane Fellaini and Shinji Kagawa with first-half knocks and a Champions League trip to Real Sociedad on Tuesday likely in mind.
But the changes disrupted United’s rhythm further. Accompanying that was a performance of far more intensity from the hosts after the break. And, in contrast, Fulham’s changes --notably bringing on Kacaniklic -- paid dividends. After a strong showing to begin the period, it was the Swedish winger that made it count on the score sheet.
Minutes after coming off the bench, he cut in from the left before producing a right-footed strike that looked to be going just wide of the near post, but Rooney’s desperate lunge to try and block it saw the ball deflect off his foot and past his own goalkeeper.
The introduction of Darren Bent later on saw Fulham put United under further pressure. The striker on loan from Aston Villa headed a chipped pass from former United striker Dimitar Berbatov onto the crossbar. But when Kieran Richardson then wasted a glorious chance by heading wide from six yards, it was clear that it would be a case of too little too late for Fulham.