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Old Trafford (ATT 75,570) 26th March 2012 - Kick off 20:00 Ref: M Oliver

Man Utd Manchester United vs Fulham Fulham

Man Utd 1

W Rooney (42)

ft

Fulham 0

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Rooney strike separates sides

Red Devils grind out a gritty win over Fulham

Last Updated: 26/03/12 11:03pm

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Manchester United have moved three-points clear at the top of the Premier League table courtesy of a 1-0 win over Fulham.

The Red Devils were far from their vintage best and it took the home side 42 minutes to open the scoring at Old Trafford.

John Arne Riise failed to deal with Ashley Young's cross allowing Jonny Evans to pick out Wayne Rooney, who finished from close range.

Man of the Match: Jonny Evans and Antonio Valencia impressed for the home side, but Wayne Rooney gets the nod for scoring the match-winning goal. Save of the Match: Mark Schwarzer kept the scoreline looking respectable. He pulled off a fine double save in the second half to deny Ashley Young twice. Moment of the Match: The Red Devils had their hearts in their mouths late on when Danny Murphy went down in the penalty area under Michael Carrick's challenge, but Michael Oliver waved away their appeals. Talking Points: Will United wealth of experience of winning title races mean they will pip City for top spot and have done Fulham already done enough to stay up?

Mark Schwarzer made a fine double save from Young in the second half to keep the Cottagers in with a shout of picking up a late point.

Fulham thought they had won a late penalty when Danny Murphy went down under a challenge from Michael Carrick, but referee Michael Oliver waved away their appeals.

That was the end of the drama as Sir Alex Ferguson's men secured a priceless victory in the title race following City's 1-1 draw with Stoke on Saturday.

Fulham started slowly but eventually emerged from their shells though and started to exploit the gaps being offered.

Mousa Dembele drove one effort wide after being invited to run at the United defence, then Clint Dempsey had a go.

The American is much more dangerous and as he set his curling shot for the corner, Fulham's 320-strong travelling support were ready to celebrate.

Acrobatic

It was too good to be true though for a team that had only beaten United once away from home since 1959, and David De Gea made an acrobatic save.

From that moment on, the Red Devils exerted their customary pressure.

Their play was not fluent though. A long-range Danny Welbeck shot and a penalty appeal for handball against Stephen Kelly was the best they could muster until Rooney struck.

Even that was a touch odd.

Rooney ducked under Ashley Young's cross when he seemed better placed to convert than Jonny Evans behind him. John Arne Riise should have cleared but it seemed the Norwegian was surprised by Rooney's move and he failed to control, allowing Evans to slide in. The Northern Irishman had the presence of mind to find Rooney instead of going for goal himself from an acute angle.

From that moment, Fulham were doomed as Rooney rattled home his 11th goal in nine games.

If there is one player who has been as influential as the England striker since the turn of the year, it is Antonio Valencia.

Not even a month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury has affected his form and he came close to bagging a brilliant second goal just after the interval.

Stayed strong

Setting off on a charge from deep inside his own half, Valencia exchanged passes with Rooney on halfway before squaring to Ryan Giggs and running onto the veteran Welshman's chipped return. Now Valencia was bearing down on the Fulham goal but Mark Schwarzer stayed strong and made the save

Yet for all the simplicity of that effort, United found chances hard to come by against Fulham's disciplined defending.

Javier Hernandez was introduced to give the visitors a different problem to solve but United's next opportunity was quite a while coming, and when it did, Giggs dragged it wide.

Having spoken in such glowing terms about Rio Ferdinand in the build-up, the veteran defender's exit 20 minutes from time was a worry given his long-standing back problems.

United should have made light of his departure by grabbing a second soon afterwards but Schwarzer produced a fine save to repel Young's volley, then kept out the follow-up too before Brede Hangeland prevented Giggs from converting.

In replacing Rooney with Paul Scholes, United seemed to be insuring themselves against unexpected disasters against a hitherto non-existent attacking threat.

But it was the veteran midfielder who put his own team under pressure with a pretty awful tackle on Dempsey that was fortunate to escape sanction beyond a simple free-kick.

Normally content to watch proceedings from the dug-out, Ferguson was clearly agitated and unimpressed by his side's performance.

The Scot really would have been furious had Oliver awarded a penalty for Carrick's tackle from behind on Murphy in the final minute, which television replays showed he had every right to do.

Manchester UnitedTeam StatisticsFulham
1Goals0
11st Half Goals0
9Shots on Target2
4Shots off Target1
8Blocked Shots4
7Corners1
17Fouls6
2Offsides0
1Yellow Cards0
0Red Cards0
88.1Passing Success80.3
15Tackles21
86.7Tackles Success76.2
59.6Possession40.4
59.1Territorial Advantage40.9
708Total Passes488
30Total Crosses7
157Lost Balls151
73Recoveries70
53.21st Half Poss.46.8
652nd Half Poss.35

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Barclays Premier League

Barclays Premier League
Pos Team P Pts
1 Chelsea 16 39
2 Manchester City 16 36
3 Manchester United 16 31
4 West Ham United 16 28
5 Southampton 16 26
6 Arsenal 16 26
7 Tottenham Hotspur 16 24
8 Newcastle United 16 23
9 Swansea City 16 22
10 Everton 16 21
11 Liverpool 16 21
12 Stoke City 16 19
13 Aston Villa 16 19
14 West Bromwich Albion 16 17
15 Sunderland 16 16
16 Crystal Palace 16 15
17 Burnley 16 15
18 Queens Park Rangers 16 14
19 Hull City 16 13
20 Leicester City 16 10

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