Cristiano Ronaldo’s venomous first-half strike secured a narrow win for Manchester United, but they had to survive a late scare against Fulham at Old Trafford.
The Portuguese winger smashed a superb opening goal midway through the first half but Sir Alex Ferguson’s struggled to translate their obvious superiority into further goals. Chris Coleman’s came close to pinching an unlikely point in a strong finish to the contest that saw Lee Clark hit the post and former Manchester United striker Andy Cole denied by Tim Howard’s heels at the death.
The result mathematically keeps United’s slender hopes of catching Chelsea alive as they extended their unbeaten league run to nineteen fixtures and the hosts were in total command during a horribly one-sided first half. Paul Scholes headed frustratingly wide early on, before Ronaldo’s astonishing 20 yard drive put the Red Devils in front. But they failed to add to that lead despite Wayne Rooney being a constant threat – the England striker brought the best of Edwin van der Sar on the hour, with the Dutchman sprawling to his right to save.
Ronaldo fired right across goal having surged away from three tacklers down the left and van der Sar had to intervene again to prevent Gabriel Heinze’s cross from reaching red shirts well placed in the middle. Fulham had barely registered as an attacking force throughout the contest, but began to grow in confidence the longer they only faced a single goal deficit.
Six minutes from time, Clark smashed a left-footed effort against the post and Howard was forced to scramble to save Carlos Bocanegra’s follow-up before another attempt bounced away off Steed Malbranque. In yet more drama, a powerful effort from Cole deflected agonisingly wide of the far post off Howard’s foot as Fulham came within inches of grabbing a point.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): Howard; Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo, Scholes (P. Neville 90), Keane, Fortune; van Nistelrooy (Smith 77), Rooney (O’Shea 83). Subs (not used): Carroll, G. Neville.
GOAL: Ronaldo (21).
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Rosenior, Bocanegra, Knight, Goma; Diop (Legwinski 64), Clark, Jensen (Radzinski 89); Malbranque, Boa Morte, Cole. Subs (not used): Crossley, Volz, John.
REFEREE: Andy D’Urso (Essex)