For the same reason you won’t turn off a Manchester United game when they’re trying to hold a 2-1 lead over one of the worst teams in the league, you don’t doubt the Red Devils as time ticks away on a 0-0. Even after he’s spent 26 years at United, we still don’t know how, exactly, Alex Ferguson gets his teams so supremely prepared for these situations, but he does.
That’s why it was not only expected by anti-climatic when Wayne Rooney scored in the 79th minute at Craven Cottage, giving United a 1-0 win over Fulham. It was too early by Manchester United’s standards. Where’s the drama?
That came a few minutes before. Rafael da Silva, defending the right post on a corner kick, had to jump to head the go ahead goal off the Red Devil line. A couple of exchanges later and a long pass out of United’s end sent Wayne Rooney hopping behind the ball into the Fulham box. Just inside the area he pulled up and opened his right foot onto a shot he put around Aaron Hughes and into Mark Schwarzer’s net. Game.
Again they were flawed, nearly going down late to a team that’s struggled all season. And again they were fabulous, a well executed counter giving them full points. For all their spells that lack control and the complains about their defending, Manchester United is still 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League ahead of tomorrow’s Manchester City-Liverpool match.
But that defending which was so error-prone mid-week and has been so suspect all season held up today. There were nervous moments — off the line clearances from both Rafael and Robin van Persie – but the central pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans played well (particularly Evans, who recorded an assist on the only goal). If the Red Devils can keep two of Ferdinand, Evans, and Nemanja Vidic healthy at all times, they may have a chance in Champions League against Real Madrid.
Fulham also had a series of nice defensive plays in a game that should have had more than one goal, one that played out in very United fashion. Against the standard that we normally judge title contenders, giving up near-as many chances as you create would be a problem, particularly against a lower-half team.
But we’re used to finding new ways to judge Manchester United. And against those standards, Saturday’s was just a typical Red Devil performance.