London – When Robin van Persie reveals creative and destructive streaks in one flowing movement there is not a better striker in the world.
Fulham manager Martin Jol knew it but could not stop him. Van Persie scored a beauty and made two more. One Dutchman undid the other quite mercilessly.
The United striker was helped by his dynamic partner Wayne Rooney, as three goals flew past Fulham keeper Maarten Stekelenburg inside 13 minutes. “A blistering period,” said United manager David Moyes.
“They cut through our defence like a knife through butter,” said Jol. “How did I feel? Lonely. But I have no fear (for my job).”
Moyes can feel the momentum moving his way due to his strikers. “I’m starting to see real signs of combination play between them, they’re both brilliantly talented and both scored goals,” he said.
Sascha Riether sparked a 13-man melee just before the final whistle with an outrageous kick and stamp on Adnan Januzaj that could see retrospective action.
At least Fulham had competed more respectably for most of the second half. But it was too little too late and, when it mattered, they had been defensively feeble.
“Jol Out!” the Craven Cottage fans chanted at the break – and not for the first time this season. “It’s better that they are on my back than on the players’ backs,” said Jol.
That second-half recovery saved Jol from further abuse. “You have to give great credit to Martin Jol, the commitment his team gave in the second half was fantastic,” said Moyes.
Simple, electrifying, devastating. That was United as they built up their lead. One killer pass from Van Persie set the ball rolling. Rooney left Philippe Senderos for dead, teased the goalkeeper and squared for Antonio Valencia who struck low, hard and first time into the net.
Scott Parker then suffered one of the strangest minutes of his career. First he produced one of the passes of the season with the outside of his boot to split United’s defence, but Dimitar Berbatov squandered his chance to beat David De Gea.
Seconds later, Parker was robbed in his own half by Januzaj. The midfielder claimed a trip, though he fell so easily that referee Lee Probert waved play on. Januzaj then released Van Persie with exquisite timing and the Dutchman unleashed an unstoppable near-post drive and Fulham already looked in disarray. Before Jol’s men could recover, the rampant Van Persie raced on to Tom Cleverley’s searching pass and delivered a simple cross for Rooney to convert. At that point it looked as though a football score might turn into a cricket score.
Yet in attack Fulham remained an occasional threat and a swift combination saw Berbatov turn freely with only the keeper to beat. Once again, however, the excellent De Gea was his equal.
Midway through the second half, Alexander Kacaniklic cut in and fired goalwards, Rooney stretched a desperate leg at the shot and the ball deflected off his studs and found the corner. “That was a Manchester United own goal,” said stadium announcer and former Radio One DJ “Diddy” David Hamilton with a trace of bitterness. Kacaniklic may beg to differ.
Moyes had taken off Rafael with an ankle injury, Cleverley with double vision and Jonny Evans with a stiff back at half-time. On came Marouane Fellaini, Shinji Kagawa and Chris Smalling, as Valencia went back into defence.
United’s momentum suffered. Fulham captain Berbatov, desperate to score against his old club, saw his final significant effort headed off the line by Smalling, while Kacaniklic scooped another half chance over the bar.
Nemanja Vidic appeared to push Adel Taarabt in the area with 12 minutes left, but the Fulham substitute was already falling theatrically and again Probert was less than impressed.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” the crowd chanted at Jol when he substituted Parker. But Darren Bent looped a hopeful header on to the bar and Kieran Richardson really should have headed Fulham’s second.
Had they felt their three points to be under threat, United would doubtless have gone through the gears again And Moyes believes there is plenty more high-speed artistry to come. “Our job is to climb the table and I’m sure we will by the end of the season,” he said.
Jol added: “I know we are better than at least six or seven other teams.” Whether he will be given time to prove it is another matter.
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