A brace from Ruud van Nistelrooy helped Manchester United shake off the shock of going behind inside ninety seconds as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side narrowly won a five-goal thriller at Craven Cottage.
Collins John stunned United by scoring from Fulham’s first attack but United were soon level when van Nistelrooy clinically converted a penalty after Moritz Volz brought down the excellent Ji-Sung Park. The Korean sent Wayne Rooney clear to put the visitors ahead two minutes later, but Fulham equalised through Claus Jensen. van Nistelrooy, so often the scourge of Fulham over the years, rounded off the scoring in first half stoppage time turning home another Park pass from close range.
The second 45 minutes was a bit more sedate but this was an old-fashioned end to end, high quality English football encounter. Fulham were enterprising and more than played their part but United looked irresistible going forward and Chris Coleman’s side just didn’t have enough defensive nous to keep them out.
The home side made the perfect start when Brian McBride nodded on a long kick from Mark Crossley and Collins John punished Rio Ferdinand’s failure to clear the danger by firing past former Fulham goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. The lead lasted less than a quarter of an hour with Volz bundling over Park in the area and van Nistelrooy making no mistake from twelve yards. Park played a key role again as United moved in front just two minutes later, playing in Rooney, who tucked a finish past the advancing Crossley with the modicum of fuss.
United looked frail at the back, something Claus Jensen exploited when he drifted a free-kick into the box and the visiting defenders and van der Sar left it one another – with the ball ending up in the net. It was a strange goal, but it was fitting reward for Coleman’s decision to try and attack one of the country’s best sides. Unfortunately, for Fulham, conceding an equaliser only seemed to embolden United’s own sense of adventure. Carlos Bocanegra cleared away from underneath his own bar as Ryan Giggs threatened to go but Fulham couldn’t hold out until the break.
There was some controversy about what turned out to be the winner as van Nistelrooy seemed to come back from an offside position before turning home Park’s cross from close range – but the goal was allowed to stand. Rooney should have wrapped things up after the break but he fired disappointingly wide when allowed to advance on Crossley and United nerves were certainly jangling when Papa Bouba Diop almost reprised his rocket strike of last season late on. This time, the Senegalese midfielder’s drive whistled wide and substitute Heidar Helguson glaringly glanced a header off target as Fulham fell short.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Crossley; Volz, N. Jensen, Goma, Bocanegra; Diop, C. Jensen, Malbranque, Boa Morte; McBride (Helguson 72), John (Radzinski 77). Subs (not used): Warner, Leacock, Elrich.
BOOKED: Boa Morte, Diop.
GOALS: John (2), C. Jensen (28).
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Richardson (Bardsley 57); Fletcher, Smith, Giggs (Ronaldo 77), Park; Rooney, van Nistelrooy (Scholes 84). Subs (not used): Howard, Pique.
GOALS: van Nistelrooy (pen 17, 45), Rooney (18).
REFEREE: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire)