Fulham were far from their best but there was plenty to cheer Jean Tigana even if his side were ultimately beaten by Manchester United at a cold Craven Cottage this afternoon. It was Sir Alex Ferguson who ended up shivering after Steve Marlet’s ended his goal drought for his new club and saw the Whites threaten a fine fightback as they struck the crossbar twice in an action-packed second half.

Ultimately, the home side were undone by the enduring excellence of Ryan Giggs. The Welsh winger shows no signs of slowing down and he scored twice here as well as providing Ruud van Nistelrooy with another, revelling in the freedom of a new role just behind the Dutchman. United’s fifth straight league win spells danger for the rest of the Premier League, especially Liverpool and the other pacesetters who had designs on claiming the title for themselves.

United were rampant in attack but might have been punished by more ruthless opposition here. The pace and power of Fulham’s attack unsettled the visitors early on and Louis Saha might spend some time this evening rueing his failure to fire the hosts into an early lead. The French forward hammered a finish into the frame of the goal and was immediately punished as Ferguson’s side surged upfield to score themselves. Edwin van der Sar will take the blame, having slammed a routine clearance into Rufus Brevett, giving Giggs probably the simplest finish of his professional career.

Fulham kept coming. Barry Hayles cannoned a powerful drive off the crossbar and Fabian Barthez, who delighted in his role of party pooper, made the first several superb stops as he foiled Steed Malbranque’s follow-up. The hosts looked neat and tidy in midfield but they lacked penetration in the final third. United were much more clinically themselves, seizing on an untimely slip from Andy Melville to double their advantage just before the break.

Giggs took possesion from his international team-mate and swapped passes with van Nistelrooy before supplying a cross that the Dutch striker, a thorn in Fulham’s side on the opening weekend at Old Trafford, volleyed home with aplomb. That should have put the title chasers on their way to a routine victory. But the reason the rest of the division has home is that this Red Devils defence appears far more porous than its predecessors.

Fulham got the route back into the contest that their persistence merited a mere minute later. Sylvain Legwinski headed home Malbranque’s free-kick to the delight of the home fans, but it took only eighty seconds of the second half for United to restore their two-goal lead. Giggs conjured up a sumptuous finish, curling an unstoppable shot after van der Sar from distance after van Nistelrooy had nodded on David Beckham’s pass. The Fulham goalkeeper may have thought that the angle was too acute for him to be beaten at the near post – but he failed to consider the Welsh wonder’s capacity for genius.

van Nistelrooy made easily have put the contest to bed after that but he failed to find a finish after sprinting past Melville to reach a Beckham ball and Fulham might things much more interesting in the closing stages. Marlet, introduced from the bench, tapped in from three yards to set up a grandstand finish after Rufus Brevett’s persistence had taken him clear of two defenders on the byline – but the home side couldn’t force an equaliser in stoppage time.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Legwinski (Davis 76), Collins, Malbranque, Boa Morte; Saha, Hayles (Marlet 66). Subs (not used): Taylor, Ouaddoh, Stolcers.

GOALS: Legwinski (45), Marlet (89).

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-1-1): Barthez; G. Neville, P. Neville, Silvestre, Blanc; Keane, Butt, Scholes, Beckham; Giggs; van Nistelrooy. Subs (not used): Carroll, Irwin, Wallwork, Solskjaer, Yorke.

BOOKED: Butt, Beckham.

GOALS: Giggs (5, 47), van Nistelrooy (45).

REFEREE: Dermot Gallagher (Oxfordshire).