It ended in a draw, but no doubt feels like a loss by Manchester United. Two points lost, that is.
Fulham got an early goal, parked the bus, and withstood a furious assault from Manchester United. They broke with 10 minutes to go, but Darren Bent scored at the death as Fulham picked up a vital point in their quest against relegation.
The attacking numbers are staggering. With the visitors attempting to salvage all three points after Steve Sidwell gave them a 19th minute lead, Manchester United unleashed an assault that is sure to rewrite the statistics record books.
At the end of it all, United had attempted 82 crosses, of which 18 they completed, and attempted 31 shots. That crossing total is the most by any team in the five major European leagues this year.
United outpassed Fulham 598-136. They forced the visitors into a staggering 89 clearances, of which ALL were successful. Standing out in defense was 6’5″ 21-year-old Dan Burn, who managed 22 clearances and halting crosses whenever they came near.
While Fulham were busy on the defensive end, they made the most of their few chances. Venturing into the attacking third for what seemed like the first time all match, a curling ball from Lewis Holtby found Steve Sidwell and the Englishman slid and poked the ball into the bottom corner for a 19th minute Fulham lead.
The goal’s buildup saw both Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher both fail to track Sidwell’s run, with the latter certainly the one to shoulder most of the blame.
The goal, Sidwell’s sixth of the season, stunned the Old Trafford faithful and came entirely against the run of play.
The home side would, however, prove wasteful. Robin van Persie produced a stunning miss just minutes after the opener, blasting well over from just two yards out on the end of a great cross from Rafael.
Fulham had a big miss of their own. Young Muamer Tankovic broke well on a three-on-two situation, and he found Kieran Richardson, but the angle was too tight for the winger who blasted over.
United continued to pummel Fulham’s penalty area, as pretty much everyone in the Red Devil attack had a good pop at goal. A furious moment on 39 minutes saw two saves from Maarten Stekelenburg as well as two blocks kept a ridiculous flurry of shots from Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra somehow out of the Fulham net.
It was more of the same in the second half, and United’s pressure forced a world-class save from Stekelenburg on 55 minutes to keep Wayne Rooney out.
As Fulham parked the bus to keep United out, the pressure mounted. United threw the kitchen sink at Fulham out of frustration, but they maintained their quality. Key passes came from Wayne Rooney, sub Adnan Januzaj, and the rest of the attacking midfield.
United finally got their goal, and when they did the floodgates opened. As Manchester United peppered the Fulham goalmouth, Juan Mata lashed across the face of goal to Robin van Persie, who touched home, and immediately called his teammates to return to the center spot.
They weren’t done. Michael Carrick unleashed a shot that was deflected and found the top corner past Stekelenburg for the lead, and just like that it was 2-1.
With Fulham offering nothing in the attack, it appeared that the double had sunk them, but in stoppage time they pressed one more time, and four minutes into the extra time, Kieran Richardson forced a spectacular save from David De Gea before Darren Bent pounced on the rebound.
The share of spoils allows Fulham to stay three points from safety, just a point back in 20th. For Manchester United, they had a chance to draw within two of Everton, but instead they remain four back in seventh.
Manchester United – van Persie 78′; Carrick 80′
Fulham – Sidwell 19′; Bent 90+4′
Manchester United – De Gea; Rafael (Valencia 69′), Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Mata, Carrick, Fletcher (Januzaj 62′), Young (Hernandez 69′); Rooney, van Persie.
Fulham – Stekelenburg; Riise, Burn, Heitinga, Riether, Richardson; Kvist (Cole 80′), Sidwell, Tunnicliffe (Parker 65′), Holtby; Tankovic (Bent 45′).