1. Self-made squeaky bum time. We all fully expected a rampant United to come out at Old Trafford tonight and torment a Fulham side that have the equal worst away record in the league. How wrong could that prediction have been?
The United of recent weeks disappeared amongst a shadow of nervous players in red shirts. Considering how important goal difference might be this season, it was an extremely tepid performance.
The substitutions reflected that. Taking off Wayne Rooney in the 70th for Paul Scholes epitomised how United were struggling to attack and looked more likely to concede rather than kill the game off. We were constantly gifting the ball back to Fulham, making countless mistakes and inviting pressure onto ourselves.
We were lucky that Fulham didn’t push harder because they may well have found a way through. A penalty appeal in the 89th minute had my heart in my mouth. It looked like Carrick may well have fouled Murphy and United could have got away with one.
Our inability to kill off a game hasn’t haunted us as much as it should have this season but you can’t help but feel if we continue to do it in the run-in, it will at some point.
2. Letting Fulham into the game in the first half. For the first 15 minutes of the game, Fulham were in United’s final third only 12% of the game. We were all over them. High pressure gave Fulham little time to settle on the ball and we were in cruise control.
However, Fulham then began to expolit the space between Ferdinand/Evans and Carrick/Giggs. They were able to run in behind our midfield and if it wasn’t for a couple of saves from De Gea, we may have fallen behind. If Fulham had been more positive and supported the attacking runs that Dembele and Dempsey were making, then United may well have been punished.
We needed to have Carrick holding further back because the natural attacking mentality of Giggs meant that he drove forward more often than he should. The fact that Fulham were playing with three in the middle meant that United were stretched by our wide play.
A well timed goal from Rooney after Fulham’s first defensive error of the game was exactly the tonic we needed as it meant that Fulham now on the back foot, knowing that another goal would effectively kill off their chances of getting something out of the fixture.
3. The performance of Giggs. Sorry Ryan, but it was pretty woeful. From misplaced passes to mistimed tackles, Giggs was a shadow of a player we know and love tonight. He cut a frustrated figure whenever something didn’t go his way and was a liability.
In the first half, he let Dembele and Dempsey run in behind him and attack Ferdinand and Evans. It left United exposed at the back and was how Fulham worked their way into the fixture after being over-run at the start.
Ryan has played like this a few times this season but has typically come up with a goal or an assist to brush over the cracks. His pass to Valencia just after the restart made me think that he was going to play a “game of two halves” and he put in a vastly improved performance. SAF must have had a few strong words.
Overall, it was a dismal performance from Ryan and with Scholes only coming on a late substitute, you have to imagine that he wasn’t 100% fit otherwise SAF wouldn’t have had any other choice but to play him, considering how impressive United’s record has been since his return.
4. How great is Tony? Through his performances this season, Valencia has created an aura of expectancy around him that whenever you give him the ball, something good will always come out of it. That reminds me of Ronaldo more than anybody.
Our best chance of the first half came in 28th minute when Tony drove into the box and a delectable 1-2 with Welbeck nearly made the space to get a shot away. Pushing into the second half, if he had scored his volley in the 46th minute after a barnstorming 80 yard run, it would of been one of our goals of the season.
His power, pace and persistence make him a defenders worst nightmare. He linked up well with Rafael to cause Riise all sorts of issues all night with overlapping runs, he didn’t know who to mark.
The only surprise came from the fact that he didn’t get a goal or an assist tonight. On countless occasions, he put it on a plate for team-mates but nobody could convert.
5. Wayne Rooney has 17 goals in his last 17 games. He has found the sort of consistent form that has eluded him for so long. We have craved such consistencies from our talismanic striker and in the run-in this season, there will be few players more important to the title credentials of United than Wayne.
It was hardly a vintage performance tonight by anybody on the pitch but Rooney being Rooney still managed to get the goal that won us the three points with Lionel Evans, as he is more commonly known, providing the assist.
Those three points earned off of Wayne’s goal take us back to the top of the table in our fifth 1-0 win of the season. Next is Blackburn away, a fixture which brings back happy memories for Rooney and United as it was at Ewood Park where we won the Premier League last year, helped along the way by a Rooney penalty.