Ruiz-Duff-goal! A minute in and Fulham had the lead at Old Trafford, a clever free-kick and a neat finish.
Beggars can’t be choosers so there’s no sense saying that we scored too early, but it did almost feel that way. Now United couldn’t just feel their way into the game; they had to fight for it. Back United came, and as expected, they were flooding the wide areas and giving us bother.
Evra crossed, van Persie sent it spiralling beyond Schwarzer and into the far corner, a majestic strike that nevertheless required Fulham to be standing not quite close enough to Evra in the buildup.
Kagawa added another, Schwarzer blocking back a Cleverly shot into the United player’s path, and frankly he couldn’t miss. Reither was a smidge slow getting off the line, so Kagawa was onside despite appearing conspicuously alone in the six yard box.
Rafael had one wiped off for offside then scored a third, a far post header from a left-wing cross.
It felt like Fulham were in meltdown but a sign of hope came just before half-time, Kacaniklic feeding Petric whose shot was diverted onto the bar by David de Gea. Ruiz stretched for the rebound but could only send it over the bar. He was at full stretch and leaning backwards, so I’m inclined to praise the anticipation rather than bemoan the miss.
The second half was more of the same, although nobody scored until Fulham’s second, a Vidic own goal following a big cross from Briggs. Vidic and de Gea went for the ball and made a mess of the situation, although Petric may have been influential in this.
Game on, sort of. Fulham really couldn’t get going still, United’s defensive positioning and timely pressing thwarting any attempts to find rhythm, and while Dembele’s audition for a big move was going well for him, we weren’t constructing any team moves of substance. Dembele laid on a late chance for Ruiz with another flying run, but this time de Gea was up to the task and beat the header away. Again, unfortunate.
It’s always disappointing to lose football matches but we perhaps couldn’t have hoped for much more than this, a narrow defeat away to one of the league’s better teams. Still, we looked a little off colour: until Steve Sidwell came on our midfield didn’t compete as I’d hoped he would, and Diarra was as ineffectual here as he was dominant against Norwich last week. There’s no point in wishing for Murphy – we lost at Old Trafford when he was in the team, too – but it was disappointing how the midfield – probably our strength now – didn’t impose itself.
Reither and Briggs seemed to have okay games at full-back, although we missed Riise’s marauding. Poor Briggs must wish for a game against a bad team – he only seems to get the biggies. Reither may have had a secret stinker, with two crosses coming from his flank and the second goal coming when he was late pushing out [on reflection this is probably harsh]. It will be interesting to see how Jol evaluates the performance.
None of Duff, Kacaniklic or Ruiz was able to dictate proceedings. True, they all had moments, but our lack of attacking cohesion meant that everything was broken, everything reduced to desperate attempts to conjure something out of nothing. Which is why Dembele shone so brightly, his game being well suited to these small individual duals, but it’s no way to win a match like this against a team like this. West Ham next week should be a better opportunity for the players to do their thing though. We must remember we were visiting Old Trafford.