David Moyes oversaw back-to-back league victories for the first time as Manchester United manager as Martin Jol’s position at the Fulham helm became increasingly precarious.
Life after Sir Alex Ferguson has proved difficult, with the reigning champions enduring a topsy-turvy start to the season that saw them head to Craven Cottage eight points off the lead. United are slowly quietening the naysayers, though, with a 3-1 defeat of Fulham their fourth successive win in all competitions.
The pressure on Moyes may be alleviating, but Jol’s position at the Fulham helm will come under increasing scrutiny after a third defeat in the space of a week. Antonio Valencia opened the scoring with worrying ease after nine minutes, with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney – players Moyes has said are the best two strikers in the world – extending that lead further by the 22nd minute.
It was hardly the morale-boosting performance Jol had called for in his programme notes and led to a number of ‘Jol out’ chants reverberating around the ground. Fulham improved greatly in the second half and substitute Alex Kacaniklic saw a strike deflect home off Rooney, but it proved to be a consolation goal.
The Whites ended the match on top but may well face losing Sascha Riether to a ban after a late stamp on Adnan Januzaj was not punished by referee Lee Probert. The hosts ultimately paid for a first-half capitulation that came after a bright opening, with Pajtim Kasami testing David de Gea from 25 yards. United spent the early stages looking clumsy – but not quite as ponderous as Philippe Senderos.
Van Persie’s through ball caught out the centre-back and found Rooney, whose squared ball from the left was directed home by Valencia. The ninth-minute goal shell-shocked the hosts, although only a fine Rafael challenge denied them a chance at an equaliser. Scott Parker sent a superb ball to Dimitar Berbatov, only for the Brazilian right-back to thwart the Bulgarian as he prepared to pull the trigger.
It was a missed opportunity that Fulham were made to pay for. Parker looked to have been fouled by Januzaj but referee Probert allowed play to continue. The teenager played through Van Persie and, despite looking to have been offside, continued to lash home past countryman Maarten Stekelenburg.
Fulham fans aimed boos at the officials, although their ire turned to Jol two minutes later. This time Fernando Amorebieta was the guilty offender, with Van Persie getting behind his man and squaring for Rooney to slot home from close range.
A smattering of ‘Jol out’ chants could be heard from the home faithful, who were fortunate to see unmarked Rooney head into the side-netting from a Van Persie corner soon after. United academy graduate Kieran Richardson tried to reduce the deficit with a 25-yard effort, before De Gea denied Berbatov after some fine team interplay.
Rafael and Januzaj received treatment for knocks as the second half came to a close, with the half-time whistle met by a lot of anger from the home fans. Perhaps with Tuesday’s Champions League tie with Real Socieded in mind, Marouane Fellaini, Shinji Kagawa and former Fulham defender Chris Smalling came on for the second half.
Fulham looked rejuvenated after the restart, with Kasami drilling a shot just wide as the Whites pushed for a goal that came in the 65th minute. After Fellaini headed into the side-netting at the other end, Kacaniklic, four minutes after coming on, saw his strike from the edge of the box turned past De Gea by Rooney.
Januzaj saw a penalty appeal waved away seven minutes later, before Smalling headed away an effort from United’s record signing Berbatov. Bryan Ruiz’s substitution was roundly cheered moments before that chance, with his replacement Adel Taarabt claiming a penalty after a coming together with Nemanja Vidic soon after his introduction.
Kacaniklic scooped over as the match entered the final 10 minutes, with chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ aimed at Jol after he replaced Parker with Darren Bent. The on-loan striker soon hushed those fans up with a header that hit the crossbar, while Taarabt forced De Gea into a late save and Richardson headed just wide.
Tempers frayed when United kept the ball in the corner in stoppage time, with Riether perhaps fortunate not to enter Probert’s notebook for the altercation with Januzaj. It was the last moment of note in a match and one which might result in retrospective action – hardly a scenario Jol, booed again at the final whistle, will relish as he pours over this latest defeat.