Steve Sidwell had given Fulham a first-half lead but just when it looked like the visitors had staved off relentless Reds pressure, Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick scored to give United a 2-1 lead and, seemingly, all three points. Until, of course, Bent intervened.
The first half had followed a frustratingly familiar course; United had all the early possession, while the visitors placed eight or nine men behind the ball. Control, but no discernible advantage. Then after 19 minutes, on Fulham's first foray forward, Lewis Holtby picked out the run of Sidwell and, unmarked, the latter poked the ball past David De Gea.
The Reds' response of a smattering of crosses was welcomed by Fulham's towering defenders, although in a frenetic 10-minute spell United had chances: van Persie fired over from close range, Ashley Young had a header saved by Maarten Stekelenburg, and Carrick's vicious volley from 20 yards swerved wide. With so much emphasis on attack, the back door can be left open and Richardson went close on another breakaway attack. At the other end, Carrick had another shot saved, van Persie's follow-up was diverted wide and from the resulting corner Vidic's towering header was saved.
The second half brought similar exasperation in front of goal and soon a flurry of substitutes - Adnan Januzaj, Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia - entered the fray. Frustration could have frayed United's belief but the Reds kept going and after a series of unconverted goalmouth scrambles seemed