Thrills and spills and bellyaches at Craven Cottage this afternoon as Brede Hangeland moved to the top of my own private “Great People” list and David Stockdale made an unforgettable penalty save that he’ll still be talking about when he’s an old man.
We were 2-1 down when referee Peter Walton (who had a strange game) awarded United a penalty based on some kind of infraction from Damien Duff. It looked perhaps as if Duff had handled after mis-kicking a clearance (in which case, could he have avoided the ball?). Nani stepped up confidently and struck his kick well, but Stockdale flew to his left like a bright yellow superman and pushed the ball away. It felt like a heart-warming irrelevance given the scoreline, but in the end proved pivotal.
Stockdale had a good game. The afternoon’s first highlight came when a spectacular bicycle kick from Berbatov was brilliantly parried away, and while he was then beaten by a 25 yard Scholes daisycutter, it didn’t feel like a shot Schwarzer would’ve got to either. His handling was impressive again, his kicking hefty, and I maintain that he looks more like Peter Schmeichel than any other goalkeeper in recent memory. We are warned not to get carried away with these things, but it’s nice to see young players do well. Let’s hope he gets a chance to prove himself.
Fulham almost equalised in the first half when Dempsey expertly freed Etuhu (in the box a lot again today; good man) and van der Sar was forced into two fine saves, one from a seated position. Do you get many chances like that against Manchester United? But happily enough we got the equaliser we deserved in the second half. Damien Duff squirreled his way through the defence, Zamora pulled it back into the path of Simon Davies, whose shot was good enough to just about beat van der Sar. Great work, Duff, great run, Davies.
On the hour Moussa Dembele then replaced Clint Dempsey, a nice chance to see our newest signing. Dempsey shuffled off like a nine year old who’d had his football stickers confiscated by the teacher. Dembele, though, justified the move with some nice work in confined spaces, a good appreciation of teammates’ runs, and a couple of surprising passes that on another day have led to goalscoring chances. Harsh on Dempsey, who had played well, but Dembele looks a shrewd signing.
So far so good then, but United went ahead again with a confusing goal from a corner. Personally I was looking at a wasp hovering a few inches from my nose when the ball went in, but nobody around me seemed to know what had happened either. The news later suggested a Hangeland own goal, which made his late equaliser even sweeter.
We might have had a couple of good penalty shouts in the run-up to the goal, but in the end none of this mattered, as with three minutes left Duff’s high corner met Hangeland’s high jump, and a convincing header beat van der Sar low to his left. The Cottage erupted.