After Juventus in Turin came Manchester United at Old Trafford. It was certainly a demanding schedule for Roy Hodgson's team, who faced the Red Devils in the North West less than 48 hours after touching down from Italy following Thursday night's UEFA Europa League clash.
Hodgson's team put on an admirable performance during the first 45 minutes and more than held their own against United. However, Wayne Rooney's goal just thirty seconds after the restart was a bitter pill to swallow for Hodgson's side, who also had to contend with the loss of Brede Hangeland through injury.
The full extent of the Norwegian's injury will only be known on Monday but Fulham fans will be hoping the centre half will be fit for Thursday night's UEFA Europa League showdown against Juventus at the Cottage.
Fulham welcomed back Danny Murphy and Clint Dempsey to the starting eleven on Sunday following their return to fitness from respective injuries. Dempsey was the main protaganist for Fulham at Old Trafford and his shoot-on-sight policy almost paid dividends on more than one occassion during the first-half.
There certainly seemed to be no European hangover on Sunday as Hodgson's team made a bright, positive start to the match. Dempsey set the tone for the match early on, firing in the first shot of the game after just two minutes' play. It was end-to-end football during the first 45, with Fulham earning their fair share of possession and chances with some neat intricate passages of passing play. The Whites certainly seemed more assured in their play with Danny Murphy back in central midfield.
Fulham made a comfortable start and the Old Trafford crowd was certainly in subdued mood before the 10-minute mark, when United produced their first serious effort on goal. Berbatov turned provider and set Carrick through on goal with a perfectly weighted, defence splitting pass. On the right hand side of the area Carrick played a selfless square pass to Rooney for a clear shot on goal. Fortunately Hughes and Schwarzer combined to dispossess the England international as he looked to engineer a finish.
Three minutes later Dempsey created something from nothing when he almost broke the deadlock with a blistering drive from 30 yards which flew just over United's cross bar. Gera then tried his luck from the edge of the area with a shot across van der Sar’s goal.
After 24 minutes Nani opened up Fulham's defence with a perfect delivery from the left flank for Berbatov, positioned on the six-yard line. Fortunately the Bulgarian sent his headed effort over Schwarzer’s cross bar from close range.
Berbatov's strike partner Rooney, looking increasingly dangerous as the minutes passed, then forced Schwarzer into a stunning save to deny the striker a certain goal following a shot rifled from 18 yards on the half hour mark.
With 15 minutes of the first half remaining United moved up a gear with Nani causing particular concern down the home side’s left flank. Despite United’s best efforts Fulham’s defence remained resolute, with Shorey and Kelly making some crucial interventions as the home side attacked from the flanks.
Hodgson’s side posed their own threat on the counter attack. In fact, Fulham almost earned the lead before the break following an exquisite piece of skill from Zamora, whose attempted lob from 18 yards just failed to dip under the cross bar.
Just before the break Valencia was needlessly booked for tripping Dempsey on the half way line. Wayne Rooney, by far United’s most potent threat in the first 45, then tried his luck from distance but failed to find the range to test Schwarzer.
At the end of an entertaining, free-flowing half Fulham thoroughly deserved to be on level terms with United.
Roy Hodgson made one change during the interval, introducing Damien Duff for Simon Davies on Fulham’s left flank. The second-half started in the worst possible fashion for Fulham, with Wayne Rooney scoring the opening goal of the game after just thirty seconds of play.
Rooney started and finished the move that earned United the lead. The striker took possession thirty yards from goal before sweeping the ball out wide to Nani on the left flank. The winger’s return pass found Rooney 10 yards from goal and his finish was clinical.
Following United’s opener Fulham were forced on the defensive as United took control of possession. Ten minutes into the second half Nani and Rooney were denied twice in as many minutes. Danny Murphy’s frustration at the turn of events was evident when he received a booking following a late challenge on Michael Carrick after 56 minutes.
On the hour mark Roy Hodgson made his second change of the game, introducing Jonathan Greening for Brede Hangeland. Hangeland appeared to be struggling since a clash during the first half. Chris Baird switched back to centre half with Greening taking up position alongside Murphy in central midfield.
Twenty minutes from time Hodgson made his final substitution of the match, replacing Clint Demspey with Erik Nevland. For United Ji-Sung Park came on for Valencia.
Fulham had just one clear opportunity on goal during the second half and it fell to Bobby after 73 minutes. Zamora raced through United’s offside trap for a one-on-one with van der Sar. It was fine opportunity but as Zamora struck his effort across goal, Vidic steamed in to produce a last ditch sliding tackle to deny Fulham an equaliser.
After 78 minutes Berbatov almost doubled United’s lead after latching onto a cross from the left flank by Ji-Sung Park. Fortunately Berbatov could not find the angle on his headed effort and the ball flew wide of Schwarzer’s far post.
A minute later Evra burst through the middle of the park before delivering a right-footed effort just wide of goal. For all United’s dominance in the second-half Fulham could have easily been on level terms had it not been for Vidic’s impressive intervention.
United were building up steam ten minutes from time and Schwarzer pulled off another tremendous fingertip save to deny Fletcher’s effort from 16 yards. Fletcher's effort was most certainly heading towards the top corner of the net.
United’s pressure eventually told when Rooney scored his second goal of the game after 83 minutes to earn United a 2-0 lead. Berbatov set Rooney up for the close range finish after skipping past Baird and Shorey down Fulham’s left flank.
Berbatov increased United’s lead to 3-0 two minutes from time after heading past Schwarzer from close range after meeting a cross from the right flank at the near post. After three minutes added time Referee Michael Jones called time on Sunday’s contest.
It was United’s day at Old Trafford on Sunday with Rooney sure to grab the headlines with his brace against the Whites. Fulham will now turn their attention towards overturning Juventus’ first leg lead in the UEFA Europa League at the Cottage on Thursday evening before entertaining Manchester City on Sunday.