The attitude of the Fulham fans travelling north for this encounter centred around this game being a free hit. Much like one of Claudio Ranieri’s first fixtures in charge, against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, little was expected – even with Manchester United struggling for both the form and finesse expected from a team of their calibre. A bit of fight and a competitive showing would put the Whites in good heart for the remainder of their relegation battle, but all hopes such a display vanished inside during an uninspiring first 45 minutes.
Ranieri castigated his players for their lacklustre showing afterwards, even suggesting that Fulham’s improved performance after the break probably had more to do with United taking their foot off the gas at 3-0 up. The gameplan, of containing an off-colour home side and allowing Old Trafford’s continuing frustrations with the Jose Mourinho regime to boil over, went out of the window after just thirteen minutes. That was how long it took for the Red Devils to take the lead, when Ashley Young nutmegged Denis Odoi, cut inside and beating Sergio Rico with a sumptuous finish that flew into the top corner.
Fulham huffed and puffed but they really looked like troubling United at the back. Ryan Sessegnon showed a couple of promising touches down the flank, but was twice flagged offside as he approached dangerous positions, whilst a mishit shot from Aleksandar Mitrovic was easily fielded by David de Gea. The visitors badly missed the bite of the injured Calum Chambers at the base of their midfield and there was an inevitability about United’s second goal, which duly arrived after 28 minutes.
A speedy break saw Rashford surge into space down the Fulham left and roll the perfect low for former Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata to finish without breaking stride into the bottom corner. Mourinho’s men suddenly looked rampant. Rashford was only denied a goal of his own by a wondrous save from Rico that repelled his dipping free kick, but United soon made it three from a smartly-worked corner. Romelu Lukaku broke his Old Trafford goalscoring duck of nearly 1,000 minutes – simply rolling the ball home from four yards as Fulham tried to play offside after Rashford and Mata combined to put the finish on a plate for the Belgian striker.
Ranieri rung the changes at the break replacing Mitrovic and skipper Tom Cairney with Aboubakar Kamara and Luciano Vietto. The double substitution enlivened a previously lethargic Fulham, who began the second period with much more purpose and spirit. Sessegnon showed a sense of adventure to wriggle through the United defence and work a yard of space inside the box. The teenager’s shot was parried by de Gea but Schurrle shot wildly on the rebound and it flew well over the crossbar.
The visitors weren’t deterred, however, and won a penalty twenty minutes into the second half. Both Vietto and Kamara were involved in a clever passing move before the French forward showed an impressive turn of pace to get away from Phil Jones. Kamara was sent tumbling to the turf by a tackle from behind from Ander Herrera and referee Lee Probert pointed to the spot. Kamara dusted himself down to convert the spot-kick himself, calmly sending de Gea the wrong way from twelve yards, to score his second goal in as many games.
Any feint hope of a Fulham comeback was extinguished almost immediately when Probert harshly showed Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa a second yellow card seconds later after an innocuous tangle with Rashford. The Cameroonian holding midfielder appeared to take the ball as he challenged the England international, but Probert sent Anguissa from the field in any case to Ranieri’s obvious fury.
Fulham competed creditably with ten men and Rico produced another splendid save to deny Rashford, only for the United forward to grab the last word with eight minutes to go. He surprised the Fulham goal with a venomous shot from nearly 25 yards that flew into the top corner to underline United’s clear superiority.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Dalot, Young, Smalling (Rojo 58), Jones; Matic, Herrera; Lingard (Fred 73), Rashford (McTominay 84), Mata; Lukaku. Subs (not used): Romero, Pogba, Fellaini, Perreira.
GOALS: Young (13), Mata (28), Lukaku (42), Rashford (82).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Anguissa, Seri; Schurrle (Cisse 73), R. Sessegnon, Cairney (Vietto 45); Mitrovic (Kamara 45). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, Johansen, Kebano.
BOOKED: Anguissa, Seri.
SENT OFF: Anguissa (68).
GOAL: Kamara (pen 67).
REFEREE: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).