United kept up the pressure on Manchester City with another impressive performance on their travels to secure a first league victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage for almost four years.
Danny Welbeck set the Reds on their way to a convincing 5-0 win with a smart finish after just five minutes. Nani doubled the advantage in the 23rd minute, before the outstanding Ryan Giggs claimed a deflected effort, ensuring he has scored in the top flight for 22 consecutive seasons. Wayne Rooney netted a 30-yard screamer two minutes from time, before Dimitar Berbatov put the icing on the cake with a delightful back-heeled finish from close-range.
It wasn’t all good for the Reds, however, with both Phil Jones and Ashley Young picking up injuries. Jones’ in particular looked a nasty one after he was grounded by an accidental elbow to the face by Clint Dempsey in the opening seconds. He lasted until the 20th minute before being replaced by Young, who limped off midway through the second period.
Sir Alex made two changes to the starting XI that beat QPR three days earlier – Anders Lindegaard came in between the sticks, while Giggs was brought into midfield to replace Jones, who switched to right-back, with Chris Smalling moving into a central position alongside Jonny Evans to cover Rio Ferdinand’s absence through injury.
Jones seemed set to join Ferdinand in the treatment room after just a minute of play when he was caught by Dempsey. The 19-year-old was closely examined by United’s medical team before being given the thumbs up to continue.
The prolonged stoppage wasn’t about to derail the Reds who had started brightly and, just as they did at Loftus Road, United made the most of their first sight of goal and duly took another early lead.
After Nani had collected possession just inside the Fulham half, he worked his way down the left wing before pulling a low cross back to the unmarked Danny Welbeck to sweep into the far corner in the fifth minute. In truth, it was poor marking from the Cottagers, but a very tidy finish from the England international.
Giggs could have made it two three minutes later, but Jones’ lovely curling cross was just too far ahead of the midfield veteran who had burst into the area.
The Reds looked very much in the mood, while Martin Jol’s side looked distinctively out of sorts and unable to cope with United’s attacking exploits. Rooney, Giggs and Nani all tested David Stockdale soon after, but the Fulham keeper was up to the task to ensure the Cottagers remained in the game, for the time being anyway.
At the other end Bryan Ruiz got in ahead of Jones after a neat one-two in the area, but the defender recovered brilliantly with a last-ditch tackle to clear the danger. It was even more impressive given Jones was clearly still struggling with the earlier head injury; indeed his fine tackle turned out to be his last piece of action after he signalled to the bench he couldn’t carry on.
Ashley Young replaced him and immediately took up a position on the left with Nani switching to the right and Antonio Valencia moving to Jones’ right-back position. And it was the Ecuadorian’s link-up with Giggs, from a short corner, which led to United’s second on 28 minutes. Giggs and Valencia swapped passes before the veteran curled an inviting cross into the area which Nani headed into the far corner.
The Reds should have been given the opportunity to make it three just after the half-hour mark, but referee Mark Halsey somehow managed to miss Philippe Senderos’ blatant foul on Welbeck inside the area, despite having a completely clear view.
United had victory all but sealed two minutes before the break though, as Giggs ensured he kept up his phenomenal record of having found the net in 22 consecutive seasons in the top flight, albeit via a pretty big deflection. Nani weaved his way into the area before pulling the ball back to Giggs whose goal-bound shot hit Senderos and looped over the top of the helpless Stockdale.
Fulham were still keen to have a go after the break and Lindegaard had to be alert to save Dempsey’s header, from a corner, just before the hour. Moussa Dembele and John Arne Riise flashed efforts just wide soon after, while the Reds lost yet another player to injury as substitute Young was replaced by Ji-sung Park after suffering a knock to his knee.
United had struggled to keep up the momentum of the first period since the restart, but still looked a threat on the counter-attack and went close to grabbing a fourth on 66 minutes when Nani crossed for Valencia, who had burst into the area; Stockdale came out to block.
Rooney and Welbeck then both saw efforts deflected wide, while Welbeck wasted a great opportunity when put clean through by Nani after clipping the ball over the bar.
Fulham continued to probe at the other end with Lindegaard needing to be on top form to save three times from Andy Johnson in quick succession late on.
The Reds rounded things off in style when Rooney blasted a stunning 30-yard drive past Stockdale and substitute Dimitar Berbatov back-heeled Valencia’s cross into the far corner to ensure back-to-back wins in London.