There was little festive cheer for United fans at Fulham on Saturday afternoon as goals from Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff consigned the Reds to a fifth league defeat of the season.
Sir Alex’s men were under-strength yet again due to the club's ever-mounting injury crisis, but did themselves few favours on a ground where, before 2009, the Reds hadn’t lost for 45 years.
Too often United were sloppy in possession and the makeshift backline struggled to find an answer to Bobby Zamora’s physical presence. Last weekend United lost to Aston Villa despite dominating much of the game. At Craven Cottage on Saturday, however, the opposition were good value for the three points.
The home side worked hard in midfield and restricted the Reds to optimistic pot-shots from long range. Meanwhile, Zamora and Zoltan Gera caused havoc against a defence that included young Belgian Ritchie De Laet, making just his third league start at senior level.
Of course, this wasn't the first time Sir Alex has been forced to field a weakened side in recent weeks. For the most part, however, United have largely coped well with depleted resources. But at Fulham there was a feeling that this was one step too far, one game too many for players who have now been playing out of position for almost a month.
With seven defenders unavailable through injury, Michael Carrick was again utilised at the heart of the defence, alongside fellow midfielder Darren Fletcher and the young De Laet. And while Sir Alex’s men enjoyed plenty of the ball in the early stages, they failed to test Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal. Instead, it was Tomasz Kuszczak who was drawn into the first save of the game on 17 minutes, showing lightning-fast reflexes to push over Zoltan Gera’s close-range volley.
Unfortunately Paul Scholes