made a mockery of such inconveniences, peeling away from Brede Hangeland before sweeping a majestic finish high into Mark Schwarzer’s goal.
Old Trafford, inevitably, erupted in recognition of the new figure on centre stage. The roar was also tinged with relief that the visitors had been so swiftly pegged back. Fulham, to their credit, appeared unaffected by the Dutchman’s strike and continued to push forward with intent whenever the situation arose.
It took quick thinking and fancy footwork from De Gea to niftily manoeuvre away from Petric, moments before Valencia arrowed a shot past Schwarzer’s top corner. Ten minutes before the interval, United moved into the lead for the first time with another goal from a home debutant.
Van Persie’s right wing corner was only cleared as far as Tom Cleverley, whose thunderous low shot was parried out by Schwarzer to the lurking Kagawa, who turned in a simple finish. The visitors irately appealed for an offside decision, yet the Japanese international was played onside by Sascha Riether, who was slow to leave his position guarding the far post.
The flag that Fulham were waiting for arrived two minutes later to spare them another concession. Rafael’s alertness fed Kagawa, whose shot struck the base of Schwarzer’s post. Though Young’s follow-up was spilled and turned in by Rafael, the Brazilian was correctly called offside.
United’s new number two soon had the ball in the net again, however, and this time there was no reprieve for the Cottagers. Another spell of pressure from the Reds culminated in Young stabbing a left-footed cross to the back post, where Rafael had peeled away from Petric to head the ball inside Schwarzer’s near post.
In keeping with a pulsating game, Fulham still had time to fashion another opening before the break. Indeed, they mustered four efforts in five frantic seconds as Evra bravely blocked Petric’s acrobatic effort, De Gea padded away Duff’s follow-up and then brilliantly deflected Petric’s shot against the underside of the bar with his legs, before