A true team effort wins it at Fulham

Posted by Musa Okwonga

The final scoreline, Saturday's 1-0 Manchester United victory at Fulham, contained no hint of the events which brought it about. The away side struck the woodwork three times in the first half, while during the same period Fulham saw David De Gea tip a searing drive from Bryan Ruiz onto his left-hand post.

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Those opening exchanges saw Robin van Persie orchestrating the playmaking from deep and wide positions, and -- less surprisingly as the weeks go on -- Patrice Evra surging forward, once even off the shoulder of the last man, and hitting the crossbar from a few yards. The left back's emergence as a genuine goal threat is as baffling to his fans as it is to statisticians, though it illustrates the team effort that has led to Manchester United’s leadership of the Premier League.

And what a lead that now is: the margin of advantage, with Manchester City hosting Liverpool on Sunday, stood overnight at 10 points. United achieved it in the manner in which their local rivals have made their own this season: whereas it is often Edin Dzeko who provides the late goals for City, here it was Wayne Rooney who delivered the late decider, cutting in from the left onto a long ball and then clipping the ball beyond the dive of Mark Schwarzer and into the far corner.

Of course, Fulham had only recently lost 4-1 at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, but here they were in far from acquiescent mood. They mustered eight efforts on target, as many as United, and exerted a growing degree of control over midfield proceedings, with John Arne Riise making dangerous incursions from wide areas. As the game went on, it seemed to be progressing to a frustrating pair of dropped points for the away side. Even the addition of Javier Hernandez, who came on for the hard-working yet ineffectual Antonio Valencia, was not sufficient to break the tie, the Mexican failing to make contact with a looping half-chance as it fell to him near the penalty spot.

Rooney’s intervention, though, fortunately brought Manchester United their 35th point from the past 39, a sequence of form that has them in control of their own destiny with 13 games to go. There was still time for a late afterthought, as van Persie headed clear from his own goal line in injury time. It has been joked that the Dutchman, not having netted for the past two matches, is enduring a scoring slump, but it was encouraging to see he has found other ways to clinch games.

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