Another home tussle with Manchester United, another rip-roaring contest. Sir Alex Ferguson was in magnamonus mood after what must have felt like a defeat, admitting that Fulham were good value for the point they eventually claimed with Brede Hangeland’s last gasp header, but the United manager must be coming to dread his trips to Craven Cottage.
Fulham’s point owed much to the fire imbued in them by new manager Mark Hughes, who must have been desperate to avoid defeat against his old boss. Past Fulham sides might have buckled under the weight of pressure that was applied to their goal, especially in a first half where the home side saw precious little possession, and they could have been forgiven for thinking that the die had been cast when Hangeland headed into his own net and Peter Walton saw fit to award a dubious late spot-kick. Not for the first time, the promising David Stockdale dived to the rescue, parrying Nani’s tame penalty, and giving the white shirts a reason to pour forward.
Hangeland, who certainly didn’t deserve to contribute to his side’s downfall by seeing a corner fly in off his shin having repelled a succession of United strikers with another classy display from centre back, climbed majestically to glance home a corner in the final minute of normal time. The Norwegian timed his run perfectly to afford the attentions of a below-par Nemanja Vidic and head Fulham to their second point of the season.
A point seemed well beyond Fulham’s reach as United, desperate for normal service to resume after two dismal defeats in a row down by the Thames, made a lightning start. Stockdale did superbly to tip over Dimitar Berbatov’s scissor kick but he had little chance of stopping a Paul Scholes piledriver from 25 yards. Quite why United’s peerless pocket rocket was afforded the freedom of Hammersmith and Fulham to pick his spot after Fulham had only half cleared a corner is a question Hughes may want answering tomorrow morning at Motspur Park.
Stockdale had to be alert to beat away a fierce Berbatov drive at his near post as the home defence dozed, but gradually Fulham forced their way back into the contest. Bobby Zamora should have headed an equaliser from a perfect Paul Konchesky cross and Edwin van der Sar made a world-class double save from Dickson Etuhu, even if the Nigerian should have given the grounded former Fulham keeper no chance with the second attempt.
The home side started the second half in a similar vein. Zamora, causing Vidic and Evans all sorts of problems at the heart of the United defence, was at his rampaging best and had a hand in the equaliser, which eventually arrived in the 57th minute after a sustained spell of Fulham pressure. Damien Duff sped away from Patrice Evra down the Fulham right and Zamora cleverly rolled the ball across the box for Simon Davies, who smashed the ball beyond a diving van der Sar from ten yards out.
Hughes then introduced new signing Moussa Dembele, whose direct running and breakneck speed, added an extra dimension to Fulham’s attack. As Dembele dovetailed nicely with Zamora at one end, Nani – Ferguson’s first substitute – proved extra penetration for the visitors, who had been penned back during the second period. The Portuguese fashioned an opening for Berbatov, only for Hangeland to slam the door shut with a diving block, whilst Zamora spurned a glorious opportunity when he latched onto a lofted free-kick from Murphy and sent a volley agonisingly wide.
Disaster struck with eleven minutes to go. Nani’s corner spun past a blameless Stockdale off Hangeland’s shin and when Duff was harshly penalised for handball, it looked as though the three points would be heading up north for the first time in three seasons. Stockdale was cute enough to delay the taking of the spot-kick, before guessing correctly to get a firm hand to Nani’s spot-kick. Referee Peter Walton, who had already turned down one strong shout for a Fulham penalty when Vidic grabbed a hold of Dembele’s shirt, then waved away a handball shout against John O’Shea but there was just time for Hangeland to atone for his earlier error with that thumping header. If this is anything to go by, life under Hughes will be anything but dull.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Greening 81), Etuhu, Duff, Davies (Gera 90); Dempsey (Dembele 61); Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Baird, Riise.
BOOKED: Duff, Greening.
GOALS: Davies (57), Hangeland (89).
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): van der Sar; O’Shea, Evra, Vidic, Evans; Fletcher, Scholes, Valencia (Giggs 74), Park (Nani 67); Hernandez (Owen 75), Berbatov. Subs (not used): Kuszczak, Rafael, Smalling, Carrick.
BOOKED: Evans, Valencia.
GOALS: Scholes (11), Hangeland (og 84).
REFEREE: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).