Arsenal's 2-1 home victory against Charlton means United are now nine points behind the top-of-the-table Gunners. Louis Saha fired the visitors ahead against his old side but Luis Boa Morte grabbed the equaliser. The Fulham faithful, who idolised Saha until his controversial £12. 8million switch to Old Trafford in January, taunted him on his return and unfurled a banner reading "Saha you're a disgrace - in Coleman we trust."
Cottagers boss Chris Coleman was not at Loftus Road, however, as he was spending his fifth day in hospital with a virus. In his absence, Saha - the player whose sale he objected to so fiercely - took his revenge on the fans who booed him and powered home a brilliant 13th-minute opener for his fourth United goal. The France forward capped a lightning counter-attack with a 40-yard run and thumping finish which left Edwin van der Sar clutching at thin air.
However, Boa Morte, the Fulham winger who has come to the fore since Saha's departure, made United pay for not capitalising on their dominance of the first half when he hit the equaliser after 63 minutes. He beat Wes Brown, whose performances at the heart of United's defence have been criticised in recent weeks, and fired home through Roy Carroll's legs.
Both teams could have won this cracking contest as Fulham hit the bar when 1-0 down and referee Alan Wiley snubbed what appeared to be a clear United penalty with the score 1-1. But that is how it finished and United, barring a disastrous collapse by Arsenal, must face up to the likelihood that the Premiership crown will be leaving Old Trafford for Highbury.
Ferguson had made a raft of changes from the team which tumbled to defeat against Porto on Wednesday and left Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ryan Giggs on the bench. Rio Ferdinand, serving an eight-month ban for missing a drugs test, was in the Loftus Road directors' box to watch Roy Keane - sent off in Portugal - line up at centre-back in Gary Neville's absence. Coleman picked his team from his sickbed on Thursday night and handed young left-back Adam Green the biggest day of his career due to Carlos' Bocanegra's three-match suspension. And Saha almost made the most sensational of starts against his old club after just nine seconds. The Frenchman raced onto Diego Forlan's angled pass and fired goalwards from 14 yards, beating van der Sar but seeing his shot skid just beyond the far post. John O'Shea was extremely lucky to escape without even a caution when he pulled down Brian McBride just outside the United box.
This was an entertaining game and Saha stamped his mark on it with a quite brilliant 13th-minute opener for the visitors. United broke as Carroll flung the ball out to Cristiano Ronaldo. The winger slipped it inside to Saha, just inside the opposition half, and he raced into the area before cracking the ball past van der Sar from 14 yards. Darren Fletcher robbed Alain Goma and curled a shot a yard wide as United went for a second. The home side gave the visitors a scare with 28 minutes on the clock. Sylvain Legwinski met Sean Davis' left-wing corner with a header which flicked off Keane and against the United crossbar.
United started the second half in identical fashion to the first - only this time it was Ronaldo who fired just beyond the far post. Fulham stunned United when they grabbed the equaliser after 63 minutes. Steed Malbranque slipped a pass into Boa Morte and he span Brown - no stranger to criticism in recent weeks - and fired through Carroll's legs. Ref Wiley denied United the opportunity to re-establish an immediate lead when he snubbed what appeared to be a clear penalty claim. Saha charged onto Forlan's through pass and clipped the ball beyond van der Sar, who stuck out his arm and sent the striker tumbling to the turf. Wiley dismissed the visitors' appeal and further enraged United when he booked van Nistelrooy while he was warming up on the touchline, after being consulted by fourth official Graham Poll. Van Nistelrooy came on and made a terrible hash of a golden chance with four minutes left. Fellow sub Giggs chipped a pass into him but he bundled into his countryman van der Sar and the ball bobbled wide as United were held to a 1-1 draw and dropped two points.