Writer: Ollie Sheehan
Date:Saturday February 4 2006
Fulham suffered yet another defeat on the road despite dominating against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
This was a game that had everything, and few would disagree that Fulham were unlucky to come away empty-handed. Indeed, 4-2 was not a true reflection of a fascinating Premiership encounter that was marred by Chris Coleman being sent from the touchline before half-time.
The Cottagers put everything into this game and they can consider themselves very unfortunate that their dominance of possession did not reap the rewards it deserved.
Before, the tea-time kick-off Fulham had only won one league game away from home in nineteen attempts. United were out to prove a point after losing 4-3 to Blackburn in midweek so it was no surprise when they took the lead early in the first half.
Fulham started brightly against a United side that accommodated the returning Alan Smith. But against the run of play the ball found Gary Neville on the right of Fulham’s penalty area. Neville’s second attempt at a cross found Park waiting on the inside right of Fulham’s penalty area. His attempted chip sent Antti Niemi the wrong way as it took a cruel deflection off Zat Knight and drifted inside the near post.
Fulham were involved in some meaty challenges early in the first half particularly by Luis Boa Morte and after Cristiano Ronaldo had struck one free-kick high and wide, he made no mistake with his second. He sent a swerving 30-yard free kick flying into the net, giving Niemi no chance to score his fourth goal of the season.
At 2-0 it looked like United would finish the job before half-time. But Chris Coleman’s plucky side hung in there and started to dictate the pace of the game. In the 22nd minute Rosenior outpaced Evra down the right and crossed in a wonderful ball that McBride met with absolute precision to head powerfully home at the near post to make it 2-1.
That was McBride’s tenth league goal of the campaign and with the way United were handling Fulham’s balls into the area it was surprising he did not get another.
But straight away United came back and within fifty seconds they had scored at the other end. Saha’s run down the right made space before he passed to Van Nistelrooy who was returning from an offside position. The flag stayed down though and Van Nistelrooy turned and shot powerfully at goal only for Niemi to make a good save. Just as Fulham fans thought justice had been done, an unmarked Saha stole in to tap home the rebound into the empty net.
Fulham and Chris Coleman protested but to no avail. Coleman would not leave the incident alone and his comments led to him being sent from the touchline by the referee to watch the remainder of the game from the stand.
Again though Fulham came back and again Van Der Sar failed to deal with the cross as Helguson stole in ahead of Patrice Evra to head home Bridge’s deep cross for Fulham’s second.
Despite being 3-2 down, Chris Coleman’s side kept pressing and ended the more confident as the two sides left the pitch at the interval.
They started the second half in much the same fashion, passing the ball around, dictating the play and forcing United into uncharacteristic errors. Radzinski, a half-time substitute for debutant Michael Brown, looked lively and upped the pace of play.
Steed Malbranque almost equalised five minutes into the second half after easily skipping past Alan Smith before a dummy saw off Wes Brown and but for a good save by Van Der Sar, his deflected shot would have made it 3-3.
Wes Brown looked out of sorts and his mis-timed challenge left Helguson free on the left but he did not keep his composure and lashed an ambitious shot well wide from out on the left flank.
United looked flat and Fulham continued to dominate possession without really producing anything more than a few hopeful balls into the United area.
United started to get a grips with the game fifteen minutes into the second half, with Ronaldo running the show on the left of midfield. His corner eventually found it’s way to Park on the edge of the area and his volley deflected out for another goal. The pressure started to mount on Fulham’s rearguard and the resulting corner from the right found Saha free in the area but his snatch volley flew just wide.
The turning pointing in the game came when United manager Sir Alex Ferguson made two substitutions, replacing Neville and Park with Rooney and Vidic to regain some composure. Ronaldo continued to enjoy himself and another run down the right saw him cross for Van Nistelrooy who headed just over.
Van Nistelrooy then got the ball in his area and after muscling his way down the right and winning the ball back, he shot from an impossible angle when Saha had been free in the centre. Coleman’s side looked out of ideas in the second half and continued to plunder and harass the United backline without creating anything more of note.
United were left hanging on very nervously until the 86th minute. Saha- energetic all evening- made another run down the left and his pass found Van Nistelrooy in the area with three players around him. Instead of passing the ball he used one touch to take the ball away from Bocanegra before shooting powerfully at Niemi. Niemi couldn’t hold it and the resulting rebound saw Ronaldo run in and from a tight angle squeeze the ball in off the post to make it 4-2 for his second of the game. By that point it was too late for Fulham to come back and the drop of the heads on Coleman’s players said it all.
The hard work just did not pay off and despite a wonderfully entertaining game, the result leaves Fulham in 14th in the table and no doubt just looking forward to their next home game.
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Date:Saturday February 4 2006
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