By Nathan Thomas.
Moss Lane 12/09/2011
Manchester United – 2
Diouf (44, 82)
Fulham – 1
It was the striker in form Mame Biram-Diouf who ultimately proved the difference between the two sides after the Senegalese forward notched a poacher’s brace taking his tally to five for the season. Fulham posed a possible late revival in the dying embers of the game when Kerim Frei unleashed a fierce strike which flew into the top corner to make it 2-1 however the Cottagers were unable to snatch an unlikely draw.
Fulham provided a refreshing change to the quality of opposition that are usually on display at Moss Lane as they matched United stride for stride in the first period which saw few opportunities at either end. United forwards Federico Macheda and Mame Diouf looked lively early on as did Paul Pogba who despite being played in an unfamiliar position the right wing appeared utterly comfortable and still managed to dictate proceedings even from a wider berth.
However it was Fulham with the first chances of note and in doing so proved they were more than a match for the Reds. Courtney Harris headed a fairly difficult header over and Ben Amos made an athletic save from forward Marcello Trotta, United though, were just about on top. Larnell Cole was full of energy on the left hand side constantly linking up with Sean McGinty and feeding United’s strike duo of Macheda and Diouf who in all truth took too long on the ball before opting to shoot or pass allowing Fulham’s stern defence to get back in numbers and snuff out the danger.
Despite their perceived lack of sharpness on decision making it was Diouf who looked United’s most threatening outlet. He tested Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli with a fierce strike on the turn and then shortly after dragged a shot wide after being played in Matthew James.
As the half drew to a close United took the initiative however they seemed to be lacking a little cutting edge with the Fulham defenders impressing, Dan Burn in particular causing problems for United’s attacking contingent with his height and strength. Pogba curled a well-executed free kick just round the left upright and Sean McGinty could only blast a cross behind the goal after a terrific goal kick from Ben Amos had been worked excellently between Reece Brown and Larnell Cole to play the Londoner in.
It appeared that the half would end a stalemate however just before the whistle on the forty-fourth minute Fulham’s Dan Burn who had up until that point been the stand out player for the west-London team misjudged a back-header to his keeper which Diouf intercepted and nodded over the on rushing Bettinelli, a great time to score after a tough first forty-five.
The second half began with a change for United with Davide Petrucci replacing James to add a bit more creative guile to the United’s engine room, having finally broken the deadlock coach Warren Joyce was looking for more!
The Italian almost made an immediate impact when he volleyed just off target from a Pogba cross and McGinty headed just wide after a great leap to connect with a Cole corner. Despite these early flurries the second half continued at a similar pace to the first half with both teams struggling to break the other down.
With twenty minutes to go United were denied a clear penalty when a Reece Brown header was cleared off the line by substitute Ronnie Minkwitz who appeared to have headed the ball however after viewing a replay it appeared that the defender had used his hand to palm the ball wide but the referee waved the decision but more intriguingly the linesman on the near-side was also unmoved despite having an un-impeded view.
No penalty, no matter, United used their annoyance to find an extra gear and suddenly the Reds were swarming all over Fulham with Pogba in particular showing some masterful touches and also whipped in two pin-point crosses from the corner spot but United could not take advantage of the Frenchman’s inspired form.
Marnick Vermijl was next to try his luck as the Belgian exchanged passes with Pogba before picking his way through the Fulham defence but he could not connect properly with his shot and could only watch as it trickled wide. United’s improved tempo had given the game a frenetic pace and Fulham were struggling to cope and the pressure finally told just after the eighty minute mark.
Unsurprisingly Pogba was the architect and combined well with the energetic Petrucci to play in Diouf who took one touch before smashing in from close range to finally finish off the plucky Cottagers.
Unwilling to take any risks United went in the hunt for more and Pogba once again showed his supreme ability to by expertly winning a header against the hugely tall Burn and then proceeded to float a great ball into the area. He then showed some good attacking nous by charging into the area chest a cross down from Diouf but just mis-judged his lob as it hit the top of the net. It was desperately unlucky and would have capped a great performance and certainly got tongue’s ‘a-wagging’ ahead of a possible appearance against Leeds in the Carling Cup next week.
Although United’s opportunities had dried up Fulham, to their credit, kept going in search of a last hoorah and after Frei hit a superb shot passed Ben Amos and suddenly an unlikely draw looked on the cards. Fortunately United’s solid central defensive duo of Michael Keane and Zeki Fryers stood firm and in doing so helped the Reds to hold on for a well earnt three points.
United: Amos, Vermijl, M Keane, Fryers, McGinty, Pogba, Brown, James (Petrucci), Cole (W Keane), Diouf, Macheda.
Subs not used: Jacob, Thorpe, Fornasier
Check the latest Reserve team statistics here.