With just two defeats in their last 11 league games, Mark Hughes’ side entered the game in confident mood. Well aware of the Whites’ fine form, his counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, took nothing for granted in naming a strong starting XI despite his team’s imminent Champions League Quarter-Final second-leg.
Manchester United were missing the suspended duo Wayne Rooney and Jonny Evans, but Paul Scholes did return after serving his own ban, while former Fulham centre-back Chris Smalling came in for Rio Ferdinand.
Fulham without winger Damien Duff, as a result of a sore Achilles and an injured Simon Davies, saw on-loan French youngster Gael Kakuta make his first start for the Club.
The Whites had last won at Old Trafford in October 2003, when Lee Clark, Steed Malbranque and Junichi Inamoto were on target in a 3-1 victory, yet despite a positive start this was another trip to forget.
Mousa Dembélé cut in from the right to shoot, and his low strike forced a decent save from Tomasz Kuszcak, while the Belgian’s strike partner, Bobby Zamora, also unnerved the United defence, losing the attentions of Smalling before firing wide.
At the other end Nani had one shot expertly blocked by Aaron Hughes, while Brazilian midfielder Anderson fired over from a good position as the hosts began to control the early exchanges.
And it was from one such spell of possession that United took the lead, with a clever interchange on the edge of the Fulham box creating room for Dimitar Berbatov, who casually slotted the ball into the bottom right corner of the net on 11 minutes from close range.
United’s opener was unquestionably debatable, with the Bulgarian striker seemingly edging into an offside position, however, referee Michael Jones waved away Fulham’s appeals.
Nani teased a ball into Schwarzer’s box as the home side sought a second, but fortunately the Australian stopper beat the on-running Berbatov to the ball.
However, the ‘keeper was beaten to the chase on 31 minutes, with Nani pushing the ball past Schwarzer’s advances and chipping at goal from the angle. With the ball goal bound, Hughes could only direct its elevation into the path of Valencia, who headed home United’s second with the simplest of finishes.
As United finished the half on top, Hughes had to make a fantastic last ditch intervention from another teasing cross from Valencia, with Berbatov lurking in the Fulham goal mouth.
The second-half opened with an imposing run at goal from Clint Dempsey, although within three minutes Schwarzer was needed to beat away a chance for Valencia, while Darron Gibson fired high and wide from the resulting corner.
Dempsey made a good block to deny Gibson a further strike at goal when getting his body in the way of an in-swinging cross from Nani, while Hughes blocked another opportunity, this time from Valencia’s delivery from the right.
Fulham did unsettle their hosts in patches, with Dempsey seeing one strike from distance deflected wide, and substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen going close with a fantastic curled effort on the hour.
The lively Kakuta won a fortunate free-kick on the edge of the United area with 20 minutes left on the clock as the Whites threatened once more, but Zamora’s subsequent set piece curled wide of the upright.
With Zoltan Gera replacing the more defensive Dickson Etuhu, Manager Mark Hughes underlined his intentions of taking the game to the club where he had a distinct reputation as a player.
And he was almost instantly rewarded when Dempsey and Zamora combined to find Chris Baird unmarked on the right, but the Northern Ireland international’s stinging shot dipped over the hosts’ goal.
Relatively untroubled in the second period, Schwarzer did well to hold late efforts from Berbatov and John O’Shea, while Brede Hangeland did well to stop a threatening run from the impressive Nani.
The Whites could well have had more to show from an improved second-half showing, however, it was seemingly one of those afternoons for Mark Hughes’ side. At Craven Cottage, Fulham have discovered a knack of upsetting United, with two wins and one draw in their last three encounters but it appears Old Trafford is a different proposition.
Unbeaten in the league at home this season, Manchester United look good to claim a record 19th league title. For Fulham, it may have been a day to forget, but with games against Wolves, Bolton and Sunderland on the horizon a top 10 finish is still very much the ambition.