A weekend of capering wins for Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle United ended with a reminder that the Premier League is still a place of gripping struggle.
Fulham seized a 2-2 draw in the 90th minute when the centre-half Brede Hangeland headed home a corner from Damien Duff. The scorer himself had unluckily allowed Manchester United the lead six minutes before when he inadvertently turned a Nani corner into his own net. The visitors could have moved out of reach in the 86th minute when a penalty was awarded for handball by Duff, but David Stockdale dived right to reach the Nani spot-kick.
The contest confirmed that this is a fixture taking on a spirited life of its own. The match programme carried an advert for a DVD of Fulham victories over United. There were three of them, the earliest dating back to 2003. The existence of such a product underlined the pride taken in any win over these visitors. United appreciate the price on their heads and would have been conscious of losses at Craven Cottage in the past two campaigns, the more recent by a 3-0 margin. Sir Alex Ferguson's side were even more likely than usual to be ready for the occasion, although the dominance was not to be sustained.
United were ahead in the 11th minute. Park Ji-sung and Antonio Valencia linked before Dimitar Berbatov laid the ball back for Paul Scholes to drill a finish low past the left hand of Stockdale. The goalkeeper was again deputising for an injured Mark Schwarzer who is the subject of interest from Arsenal. It is Scholes, though, who intrigues. A watching Fabio Capello should have been reproaching himself for not making a personal plea to come back to international duty.
The England manager could still make such an attempt, but Scholes will be 37 by the time of the Euro 2012 finals and he faded in the second half here. Not even the midfielder could cow Fulham entirely even when he was fresh. They remain a well-structured and methodical side despite the departure of Roy Hodgson to Liverpool.
The team inherited by Mark Hughes began to develop some modest pressure before the interval. When Edwin van der Sar was called into action he made a fine double save.
A Clint Dempsey backheel set up Dickson Etuhu in the 31st minute and although the goalkeeper blocked the initial attempt the midfielder should have tucked home the rebound, but Van der Sar, almost sitting on the ground, still turned the effort over the bar. United were not to be spared in the 57th minute. Duff beat Patrice Evra on the right wing and slid the ball behind the centre-back Jonny Evans to Bobby Zamora. The striker's cut-back was swept beyond Van der Sar by Dempsey.
Fulham would show their mettle in the even more impressive recovery that was to be demanded of them.
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