After Manchester City dropped points against Stoke City during the weekend, United’s opportunity to open up a three point gap at the top of the Premier League table emerged with the visit of the Cottagers to the Theatre of Dreams. With the joint worst away record in the whole league (11 points from 15 games), the football betting tips were always in United’s favour. However, the match was no where near as easy as many predicted.
Wayne Rooney scored the only goal, just before half time, on Monday night as Manchester United opened up a 3-point advantage at the top of the Premier League, heading into the final 8 games of the season. Prior to Rooney’s goal, Manchester United’s only threat to Mark Schwarzer had been Ryan Giggs’ early, weak header.
The home side got going in the second half with Antonio Valencia producing a save from the Australian goalkeeper with a hard struck shot, before a double effort from Ashley Young was well denied.
Manchester United were holding on in the final 10 minutes, but David de Gea’s goal was never severely threatened. However, things may have been very different if the referee, Michael Oliver, had given a penalty for Michael Carrick’s alleged trip on Danny Murphy inside the penalty area in the final minute; a decision United were fortunate to get in their favour according to Jonny Evans.
For the most part of the game, Manchester United were very solid at the back. In particular, centre back Jonny Evans put in another top performance, something that is becoming common this month, along side Rio Ferdinand for the majority of the game, before the England centre back was replaced for the final 18 minutes by Chris Smalling, after he felt a niggle in his back.
The Northern Irish defender, who has played more Premier League games this season than in any previous year in his career, setup Wayne Rooney’s winner when he connected with Ashley Young’s cross into the box, after which he cleverly cut it back to the England striker who thumped home from close range, in the 42nd minute. Ultimately, Fulham defender Brede Hangeland was at fault as it was he who failed to connect with Young’s cross that allowed Evans to reach the ball at back post.
Impressively, the former Sunderland loanee prevented Fulham’s second top goalscorer Pavel Pogrebnyak attempting a single effort on goal during Monday night’s performance; even though the former VfB Stuttgart striker scored 5 in his first 3 goals for Fulham.
Jonny Evans was forced into making only 1 tackle during the 90 minutes on the pitch, but won all 5 of his aerial battles against the 6’3” Russian striker and made 11 headed clearances in the game.
Nonetheless, Evans was fortunate to escape a yellow card with the 2 fouls he made during the game, having been booked 5 times in his 23 Premier League appearances this season.
The Manchester United number 6 completed 98% of his 88 pass attempts against Fulham, with only 3% of these going back towards his own goal and it just shows how Evans has come on strong following injuries that have hampered Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand this season. Only Patrice Evra, Wayne Rooney and David de Gea have played more Premier League minutes for Manchester United than Jonny Evans after 30 games.
Wayne Rooney’s winner against Fulham was his 21st of the season; leaving him 5 behind the league’s top goalscorer Robin van Persie. The Manchester United striker has now scored 8 goals in his last 6 Premier League appearances.
Clint Dempsey’s 2 shots on target in the first half were all Fulham had to show for in 90 minutes. He first was a low effort from outside the area that produced a comfortable save from David de Gea. The second, also from 18+ yards produced a diving save from the Spaniard which was more for the cameras than being overly difficult.
Manchester United now lead the Premier League ahead of Manchester City by 3 points. Roberto Mancini’s host Sunderland on Saturday, a side they lost to 1-0 at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day. The 19-time English champions travel to Blackburn Rovers on Monday night looking for revenge following Steve Kean’s side’s 3-2 victory on New Year’s Eve.