|1||Van der Sar|
So now at last the table truly reflects the Reds’ advantage. With the same number of games played, United are superior to nearest rivals Liverpool by five points and nine goals.
The champions' superiority in this particular contest was rarely in doubt, even with Sir Alex Ferguson making seven changes to the side that booked a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals and a possible rematch with Fulham on 7 March.
Edwin van der Sar returned in pursuit of his 14th consecutive league clean sheet and there were also recalls at the back for John O’Shea and Nemanja Vidic. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes rejoined the midfield while Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez were reunited as the front two.
Cristiano Ronaldo therefore started wide where he produced two crowd-pleasing flicks in the opening moments for right-wing partner O’Shea, one leading to a shot across Mark Schwarzer’s bows from the Irishman.
The stunning first strike after 12 minutes came from the left wing, however, when Michael Carrick’s corner was volleyed in vintage fashion by Paul Scholes. Schwarzer dived to his right and got his hands to the howitzer but could only watch in horror as the ball spun away to his left to give Scholes his richly deserved goal.
Fulham created one half-decent attempt to equalise when right-back John Pantsil floated in a cross and Bobby Zamora headed just wide. Pantsil was