United striker Wayne Rooney (right) celebrating with teammate Jonny
Evans after scoring against Fulham. The win moves United three points
clear of Manchester City at the top of the league, their biggest lead
over their bitter rivals this season. Yet, the Red Devils should be
thankful that an 89th-minute penalty claim against them was not
LONDON: If reports of Roberto Mancini making
an appearance at a religious pilgrimage site in Bosnia-Herzegovina on
Monday are true, chances are the Manchester City manager was praying for
But if he did not do so ahead of Manchester United's 1-0 win over Fulham, he might want to do so now.
The victory at Old Trafford moved the
champions three points clear of City atop the Premier League - their
biggest lead of the season. And leads held by United at the business end
of campaigns are not typically thrown away.
The last eight times they were ahead with eight games remaining, they went on to win the title on seven occasions.
What is typical of United, however, is their ability to eke out a result when they are not necessarily at their best.
Against Fulham, they produced their most
disjointed league performance of a 10-match sequence that has helped to
re-establish them as title favourites.
Yet, from the moment Wayne Rooney scored three
minutes before half-time, there seemed little doubt that United would
go on to win.
There was, though, a lucky escape in the 89th
minute, when Fulham substitute Danny Murphy burst into the United
penalty area and tumbled under a nudge from Michael Carrick.
That was the moment when Mancini would have been hoping for divine intervention, but referee Michael Oliver shook his head.
United manager Alex Ferguson admitted his side were fortunate not to concede a penalty.
'I think Michael caught his heel. It wasn't a
stonewaller but it could have been a penalty. Maybe (Oliver) was
thinking about the one in the first half that we had. Certainly it was a
claim, there's no question about that,' he said, referring to when
Stephen Kelly appeared to handle a cross by Patrice Evra.
Fulham manager Martin Jol was less
philosophical about the decision, particular after being at the wrong
end of another officiating call again.
Back in 2005 when he was in charge of Tottenham, Pedro Mendes had a goal disallowed when Spurs played United at Old Trafford.
'I don't want to see Michael Carrick sent off, but it needed a brave decision and I think it was a penalty kick,' said Jol.
'I thought they were pretty nervous at the end. We could have had a result. We could have shocked them today.'
The upset did not come. And with their next
four games against teams in the bottom six, it is difficult to see where
United are going to slip up.
Ferguson, however, will hope his side will be more clinical than they were against Fulham.
With 15 minutes remaining, United spurned a
glorious chance to double their advantage. Fulham goalkeeper Mark
Schwarzer, who had an excellent game, twice denied Ashley Young before
Ryan Giggs had a goal-bound effort blocked by Brede Hangeland.
'We missed some decent opportunities but you have to give credit to Fulham,' said Ferguson.
'The problem is when you play teams who sit in
your half the whole game, they always have something left, and they had
more left than us in the final 15 minutes.'