On This Day… 21st March 2009

Fulham 2-0 Manchester United

Murphy pen 18, Gera 87

The Context

This was Roy Hodgson’s first full season in charge and this time he was presiding over a far more comfortable campaign. We went into the game in 9th place on 37 points and to all intents and purposes were already safe. Manchester United were 4 points clear of Liverpool and Chelsea at the top and had hammered us 4-0 at the Cottage just a fortnight earlier in the FA Cup quarter-final. This continued their long sequence of success at the Cottage and you had to go back to 1964 for our last win over United on home soil. In all the circumstances it’s fair to say hopes weren’t high that the spell was about to be broken.

The Teams

Fulham: Mark Schwarzer, John Pantsil, Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland, Paul Konchesky, Clint Dempsey (Zoltan Gera 81), Danny Murphy (Olivier Dacourt 67), Dickson Etuhu, Simon Davies, Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora (Diomansy Kamara 77).

Subs Not Used: Pascal Zuberbuhler, Erik Nevland, Frederick Stoor, Tony Kallio.

Hodgson had transformed our fortunes from the previous season without spending a fortune. Andy Johnson had been the marquee big money buy but other additions had been acquired at bargain prices or on frees. Pantsil and Zamora had come together from West Ham whilst the fabulously reliable Schwarzer arrived from Middlesbrough for free after his contract expired. Zoltan Gera arrived in similar circumstances from West Brom whilst to much surprise Dickson Etuhu had seamlessly replaced Jimmy Bullard in midfield. The wise old owl Hodgson knew Etuhu could be far more disciplined which freed up Danny Murphy to pull the strings in a well-balanced midfield.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, O’Shea (Tevez 70), Evans, Ferdinand, Evra, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Scholes, Park, Giggs, Berbatov (Rooney 46).

Subs Not Used: Foster, Neville, Anderson, Carrick, Fabio Da Silva.

Sent Off: Scholes (18), Rooney (89).

As usual star-studded United were pushing for success on all fronts. Fulham past and future were in the starting XI in the shape of Edwin Van Der Sar and Dimitar Berbatov. Their strength in depth was epitomised by the fact that Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney could only command places on the bench.

The Match Report (BBC Sport)

Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney were sent off as Manchester United’s title hopes took another shocking blow at Fulham.

Scholes saw red after 18 minutes for handling Bobby Zamora’s header, Danny Murphy dispatching the penalty. And as United pressed for a second-half equaliser, Zoltan Gera struck on the break with a superb control and finish. Seconds later, Rooney threw the ball away in frustration to earn a second booking on a miserable day for United, whose lead could be cut to one point.

It was a historic result for Fulham, as it was for United – although not one they will look back on with any fondness. Fulham had not beaten United at home in 45 years, while the visitors, beaten by Liverpool last weekend, had not lost successive league games since 2005. The Cottagers’ celebrations at the final whistle will surely have been matched at Anfield. Victory for Liverpool against Aston Villa on Sunday will see United’s lead cut to just one point, albeit with a game in hand.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who at least saw Chelsea beaten by Spurs on an incredible day in the Premier League, will need all his managerial experience to galvanise his troops ahead of the visit of Aston Villa on 5 April. United’s frustration at Craven Cottage was epitomised by Cristiano Ronaldo, who twice had to be warned by referee Phil Dowd for his petulant complaining and was booked for a reckless lunge at Murphy in the second half.

In truth, Ronaldo, like his team-mates, was completely out of sorts, harried into giving the ball away with shocking regularity in a first half in which Fulham were rampant. Roy Hodgson’s side, who had leaked seven goals without response in their two previous games against United this season, peppered Van der Sar’s goal with 10 shots before half-time while limiting the opposition to just two. Quicker in the tackle and always willing to test Van der Sar from distance, they fully deserved their lead when it came. Former Fulham keeper Van der Sar did well to keep out Zamora’s header from a corner, but the rebound came straight back to the striker and as he nodded towards goal, Scholes instinctively put his arms up. Scholes knew what was coming as he stayed on his knees, looking ruefully at the ground.

As the midfielder trudged down the tunnel, Murphy confidently stroked the penalty high into the net. It continued an incredible scoring record for Murphy, who three times gave Liverpool a 1-0 win against United in his Anfield days. Fulham continued to take the game to United, with Zamora, in particular, terrorising the visitors’ creaking defence.

They should have had a second when Andrew Johnson miscontrolled and then Clint Dempsey blazed over from a good position. And it looked as if Fulham would pay for failing to make the most of their dominance as United came out fighting after the break. Dimitar Berbatov, who landed awkwardly on his ankle at the end of the first half, was replaced by Rooney at half-time and the change gave United some much-needed urgency. Darren Fletcher shot too close to Schwarzer after a one-two with Ronaldo, who could also only find the keeper with a free header from Rooney’s cross.

United fans were on their feet when Ronaldo set up Ji-Sung Park in front of goal but Schwarzer not only kept his effort out but was up quickly to keep out Rooney’s follow-up. And Fulham wrapped up victory through Gera, who had his back to goal when he collected Johnson’s cross but managed to flick the ball up and hook it home. The sight of the second goal going in proved too much to bear for Rooney, who threw the ball away when a free-kick was taken from the wrong place to pick up his second booking.

The England striker gave Dowd a volley of abuse before storming down the tunnel, punching the corner flag for good measure on the way.

Attendance: 25,652

The Outcome

The victory took Fulham to the magic 40 points and with safety assured we continued to gather points at a good rate. The way the season panned out meant that 7th position would be good enough for a European place and we clinched that unlikely achievement by winning our penultimate fixture at St James Park. Our goal record for the season was 39 for and 34 against which tells you all you need to know about Hodgson’s organisational abilities.

United overcame the shock of this defeat and held off a strong challenge from Liverpool to clinch the title by 4 points. A repeat of 1999’s treble was derailed though by a penalty defeat to Everton in the FA Cup semi-final and a Barcelona triumph in the Champions League final.