Wayne Rooney put Manchester United ten points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League on Saturday night with a brilliantly taken late second-half strike that could well turn out to be a vitally important moment in the title race.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side started brightly in the first half, but after a floodlight failure just before the interval the Reds seemed to lose a little of their sparkle. Fulham carried an air of threat themselves and David De Gea had to produce a string of important saves that perhaps will not get the same level of attention as any perceived error.
But it was Rooney, reaching top form at just the right time of the season, who made the decisive impact on 79 minutes when he curled a low shot past Schwarzer to clinch a victory that gives the Reds a healthy lead at the top of the league before Manchester City face Liverpool on Sunday.
The Reds went into the game having won the last five meetings with Fulham, yet the Londoners have claimed two victories and a draw in United’s last four visits to Craven Cottage. However, Fulham were without top scorer and ex-Red Dimitar Berbatov, who missed the game with a hamstring strain. The Bulgarian’s absence didn’t appear to enhance Fulham’s chances of offering a sterner test than the one provided at Old Trafford in the FA Cup last week.
There was a gulf in class as United ran out 4-1 winners last week and Fulham boss Martin Jol admitted that his side could have conceded six or seven goals. That wasn’t the case in an entertaining and evenly-contested encounter in London, but Sir Alex’s selection of Nani, Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in particular put the Reds on the front foot from the off in the first half.