Fulham took the lead at Old Trafford and threatened an almighty shock but Ruud van Nistelrooy’s second successive FA Cup double ensured Manchester United reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1999.
The Dutch forward, whose brace dispatched Manchester City in the fifth round, fired home two trademark finishes from close range to ensure United avoided more embarrassment at the hands of Fulham, who had already won at Old Trafford this season and held the champions to a draw last month. The Londoners had the temerity to take the lead, profiting from a penalty after Wes Brown had brought down Luis Boa Morte. Steed Malbranque made no mistake from the spot – and Fulham’s boisterous band of travelling fans were dreaming again.
The visitors had showed signs of unsettling United’s makeshift defence from the outset. Brian McBride’s hold up play and precise passing, so pivotal in winning the penalty, unsettled Roy Keane, who looked uncomfortable out of position at centre back, whilst Boa Morte buzzed around the edge of the area frequently. United were also initially off-colour in front of goal: Ryan Giggs wasted two good chances in the first five minutes and van Nistelrooy fired well over after being teed up by Ronaldo eight yards from goal.
But, this being United, you can never keep them down for too long. Van Nistelrooy made amends with his very next opportunity, firing home on the half volley after Giggs had cut the ball invitingly back from the byline having been freed by Paul Scholes. van Nistelrooy’s 25th goal of the season relaxed a worried home crowd, who were fretting about a repeat of Fulham’s magnificent win here in October, where they had played United off the park. The visitors almost took the lead again when Zat Knight struck the bar from 40 yards with an outlandish effort, but Ferguson’s side were firmly in control for the rest of the contest.
Ronaldo produced a mesmeric performance full of dribbling and dangerous crossing as he gave poor Adam Green something of a runaround. For good measure, the Portugese winger hit the crossbar with a free kick before creating the crucial second goal for van Nistelrooy, who gleefully tapped in from close range. Fulham pushed for a late equaliser and Tim Howard produced an outstanding save to keep out Boa Morte’s curling effort as the Londoners’ FA Cup adventure came to end.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3): Howard, P. Neville, Brown, Keane (Djemba-Djemba 75), O’Shea; Fletcher, Butt, Scholes; Ronaldo (Solskjaer 88), van Nistelrooy, Giggs. Subs (not used): Carroll, Kleberson, Forlan.
BOOKED: Keane, P. Neville.
GOALS: van Nistelrooy (25, 62).
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Green, Goma, Knight; Davis, Legwinski (Pembridge 64), Clark; Malbranque, Boa Morte, McBride (Hayles 63). Subs (not used): Crossley, Djetou.
BOOKED: Volz, Boa Morte, Goma, Hayles.
GOAL: Malbranque (pen 23).
REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hampshire).