Such that dominance, the precariousness of the Reds’ lead was underlined a minute later. Fulham’s first meaningful attack – started by breathtaking control from ex-Red Dimitar Berbatov, recipient of a warm reception from the home support – resulted in a 25-yard effort from Sascha Riether skidding narrowly by De Gea’s far post, and the interval arrived without further incident and with the outcome far from assured.
If Sir Alex’s interval message to his players hammered home the need to quickly put the tie to bed, it certainly registered. Little more than a minute of the second period had passed when Rooney’s close-range effort was cleared off the line by Hughes, but the England striker’s wait for a goal wouldn’t last another four minutes.
Anderson, whose string-pulling had been a fruitful first half outlet, released Rooney with a subtle angled pass which allowed the striker to race towards goal, cut inside Hughes’ challenge and bash home a left-footed finish which hurtled past Schwarzer.
The game’s second goal had a decisive air about it, and so it proved as Fulham’s resistance crumbled and two quickly became three. Nani’s cross to Chicharito was desperately cleared by Hughes, and the Portuguese kept play alive long enough to find Rooney, then helped on the striker’s low cross for Chicharito to hook a first-time finish inside Schwarzer’s post.
After a brief lull in proceedings as both managers reshuffled - Hugo Rodallega replacing Duff for Fulham, while Michael Carrick's 300th Reds appearance was cut short by Paul Scholes - before United once again cranked up the pressure.