Afternoon Roy Hodgson is a hard act to follow. Not as hard as José Mourinho at Inter or, y'know, the immaculate conception, but pretty flipping tough.
Fulham's failure to qualify for this season's Europa League may have saved Mark Hughes from demands that he emulate his predecessor in reaching the final of that competition, but he himself has acknowledged that the team should do better in other competitions as a result of the reduced fixture congestion. Given that Fulham beat United in their last two meetings at Craven Cottage by a combined margin of five goals to zip, then, today's game should be nothing more than a formality.
In the meantime, wht not take a look at Barney Ronay's interview with Fulham's Danny Murphy:
There are certain assumptions it is tempting to make - and many have - about Danny Murphy, the Fulham captain, Liverpool fan and in recent seasons a renascent force as one of the Premier League's more studied English meddlers. Chief among these assumptions are that he hates Manchester United (fuelled by unsuccessful teenage trials at Old Trafford, as mentioned on his Wikipedia page and elsewhere); and also that United hate him right back just as vehemently.
It only takes a few moments in Murphy's company ahead of Manchester United's visit this afternoon to Craven Cottage to establish that, in fact, none of this is close to being true. As a teenager Murphy "went round a lot of clubs" but never United. The last time he saw Sir Alex Ferguson ("a lovely, lovely man") they had a long and very friendly chat about football; and currently his favourite topic of conversation is the enduring excellence of United's most luxuriously high-spec midfielder, Paul Scholes, not to mention the United man's ongoing mistreatment by successive England managers, including Fabio Capello.
Were he a slightly less lovely man, Ferguson would be justified in feeling just a tiny bit irked by the sight of Murphy, who has been a persistent thorn on the pitch. As a Liverpool player he scored the winning goal in 1?0 victories at Old Trafford three times in four seasons between 2000 and 2004. Over the past two seasons he has been at it again, scoring the opening goals in Fulham's refreshingly vibrant 2-0 and 3-0 defeats of the then champions at Craven Cottage.
With Murphy, Chester born but a Liverpool fan since the age of eight when he started going to Anfield with his father, there has always been a suspicion of inspired partisan mischief around such elevated deeds. "It's just a coincidence," he says now, dismissing the issue outright and getting straight back to the main business of a passionate and detailed homage to the gifts of his opposite number this afternoon, gifts already showcased compellingly in United's Scholes-inspired swatting aside of Newcastle at Old Trafford on Monday.
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Team news Wayne Rooney, as expected, misses out with a dicky tummy. Javier Hernandez steps in to replace him. For Fulham, Paul Konchesky returns after an ankle injury, while Clint Dempsey replaces Zoltan Gera.
Fulham: Stockdale, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies, Dempsey, Zamora. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Baird, Gera, Riise, Greening, Dembele.Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Vidic, Jonathan Evans, Evra, Valencia, Fletcher, Scholes, Park, Hernandez, Berbatov. Subs: Kuszczak, Owen, Giggs, Smalling, Carrick, Nani, Rafael Da Silva. Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire)
Fergie's thoughts In his pre-match interview, Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that Wayne Rooney has a virus and says the reason Hernandez is starting rather than Michael Owen is just a question of match fitness. Is it just me or does he look younger this season? Has Sir Alex discovered the elixir of youth? Or is it just because I'm not watching in high definition?
An email "We're living in a Goalden Age of Premier League football," toots Gary Naylor, presumably fresh from watching Newcastle thump Aston Villa 6-0. "The finishing has never been better, the thrills more thrilling, the grounds more empty ... oh."
Chicarito makes his entrance Hernandez prepares for kick-off by going down on two knees in the centre circle and staring skywards, while holding his hands out, palms up. I'm going to guess that he's praying, but let me know if you have a better explanation.
1 min Off we go then, with United flying forward and Fulham winning the game's first goal-kick within 10 seconds of kick-off.
3 mins United are hoarding the ball here in the early going, the ball moved left, right, forward and back in neat little triangles that always seem to go through Paul Scholes. It's not really going anywhere yet, though.
4 mins Fulham finally win possession and come racing forward to win a throw-in on the right, which is tossed in quickly towards Bobby Zamora. He turns to chip the ball in towards Davies attacking the near corner of the six-yard box, but the midfielder is a step ahead of the ball and attempts an overhead kick. Badly.
6 mins Vidic's heavy backpass gets caught for a moment under the feet of Van der Sar but the goalkeeper recovers at the last to step away from Zamora and move the ball on to O'Shea.
7 mins "I've just bet my childrens university fund on a Fulham 6-0 win," tootles someone going by the name Edson. "Haven't told the wife obviously but it should be alright." Good thinking - I've heard there's no university places left these days anyway.
9 mins First show of any real incisiveness from United, as Park and Fletcher exchange passes on the edge of the area, before the ball breaks to Hernandez, whose effort is blocked wide. Fletcher likely would have hit it himself were the first return ball from Park not a tiny bit behind him.
10 mins The corner is cleared but there's more pressure from United as Berbatov's header is blocked, then his follow-up is deflected behind for another corner ...
GOAL! Fulham 0-1 Manchester United (Scholes, 11 mins) There was plenty of talk in the build-up to this game about Scholes being just one short of his 150th goal for United and now he has it. The corner is taken short to Evra, who darts back towards the corner of the area before squaring it to Berbatov. The striker has his back to goal and instead of turning opts to play a first-time pass back to Scholes, who pings it straight back the bottom corner from a good 25 yards. Superb finish.
12 mins Nearly a very swift response from Fulham as Dempsey (I think ... to be honest I was still typing up the Scholes goal) volleys over the bar from the edge of the box.
14 mins "Perhaps 'Little Pea Hernandez' was facing the sun and employing his vegetable-like qualities for photosynthesis," moots Darren Connolly of Chicharito's pre-game kneel-down. "And gleaning that extra energy edge for the game?"
16 mins Another fantastic one-touch move from United down the right ends with Scholes swivelling to tee up Hernandez, who drives just wide of Stockdale's right-hand post from not far outside the D. United are looking pretty sharp so far.
17 mins Afforded a few yards of space in front of the United defence, Dempsey decides to have a dig himself but his low, skiddy effort is a good way off target.
19 mins There's something a little flat about Fulham today - they're not doing too much technically wrong and when they get forward they can cause some trouble, as evinced by the rather desperate header required from Evans just now to prevent Davies's chip forward from reaching Zamora by the penalty spot - but they just seem to lack a bit of energy. Even though they're only a goal down it feels as though they're already resigned to losing.
21 mins United pour forward again, washing over and around Fulham's stationary wall of a defence, as Park feeds Hernandez on the edge of the area, then he spins to slide the ball out to Berbatov rushing forward down the right. The Bulgarian's thumped effort is blocked by Stockdale at the near post.
22 mins "Berbatov and Hernandez seem to have started well here and linked pretty effectively in the Community Shield," says David Wall. "Perhaps that's to be expected given Hernandez is not too dissimilar to Keane (during his first spell at Spurs). Do you think there is much chance that they could become the first-choice pairing for United if they progress together? Or do you think, for the immediate future at least, it's merely that Fergie has come up with an alternative front-line for when Rooney needs a rest?" They have indeed started brightly, but it would take quite something for Rooney to no longer be first choice when healthy ...
23 mins Better from Fulham, as Duff finds a yard of space down the left to whisk a ball over to Zamora that Van der Sar has to palm away. Zamora, to be far, has been working hard so far and does seem to be finding spaces on the rare occasions the ball gets forward to him.
26 mins The flag shoots up as Berbatov looks to latch onto a long throughball forward. If I'm not mistaken that's the first offside of the game, flag fans.
27 mins Danny Murphy, a man who has not been adverse to scoring goals against United during his career, lets fly from 25 yards, but "fly" is the operative word as the ball soars off into the upper tier. See - with a bit of practice you can do it without a Jabulani too.
28 mins United make their way into Fulham territory again, this time with a little less urgency, but Berbatov is still able to get a shot off from outside the area that Stockdale clutches gratefully to his chest. Moments later Zamora goes down under pressure from a United defender in the area, but referee Peter Walton's having none of it.
30 mins "Darren Connolly (14 mins) is mistaken," parps Alex Templeton as Berbatov glances a header over from 10 yards. "'Little Pea' was indeed tuning into his dominant vegetable force, but closer observation would reveal he was in fact employing his knees to absorb micro-nutrients from the rich Craven Cottage soil."
31 mins What a save that is from Edwin van der Sar! Etuhu makes a fantastic late run into the area from the left, bursting past Evans and O'Shea to take a pass and fire goalwards. Van der Sar is down sharply to block, but the ball breaks back to Etuhu, whose second effort looks destined for the now unguarded net until the keeper thrusts up a palm to somehow reach the ball and push it behind.
33 mins My, what a save that was from Van der Sar. United, of course, waste no time getting in their response and Stockdale smothers from Hernandez at the near post.
34 mins Fulham haven't done an especially good job of containing United but they are beginning to show more of themselves going forwards, and now only Scholes's late intervention prevents Zamora's header reaching Davies as the midfielder attacks the left-side of the area. He doesn't just score 'em, you know.
36 mins A Fulham corner on the left is take short to Konchesky, whose outswinging delivery finds Etuhu ploughing in towards the near post, but he can't keep his header down.
38 mins Fabio Capello is up in the stands, presumably keeping an eye on Bobby Zamora, but of course everyone will probably now talk about how much he must regret not having got Paul Scholes in his England team this summer. Even though he did try to do precisely that.
39 mins Capello has just seen Valencia go in the book for a late challenge on Davies.
40 mins And now he's seen Murphy not go in the book for a rather similar challenge on Scholes.
43 mins The initial delivery from a United free-kick on the left is half-cleared by Fulham, but Fletcher recovers it and floats another angled ball into the area towards Evans, whose header lacks any real conviction and drops gently into the hands of Stockdale. Capello, incidentally, is sat next to Hugh Grant. If you don't believe me, see the picture above.
45 mins Vidic falls to the ground clutching his neck and in some apparent pain after an aerial challenge, but replays suggest there was no contact. To be fair it doesn't look like he's faking - so it could be something muscular? Either way, he's going off with the physio ...
45 mins (+1) Vidic is already back on, so it can't have been that bad.
Peepety-peep And that's it for the first half. Back in a tick with half-time thoughts and emails.
The more I see that Scholes strike ... the better it looks. He's struck it with the outside of his boot and the ball actually curves away from Stockdale right at the last - if it hadn't the keeper might even have saved it.
Everybody for England "With Andy Carroll rattling in that hat-trick earlier, and with the absurd knee jerk reactions that usually follow these things, I reckon Zamora will find himself about eighth in line for the England shirt according to the press tomorrow if he's lucky," muses Adam West.
Get dressed Grant "Just how far down does Hugh Grant have that shirt unbuttoned," demands Phil Sawyer. "Is it some sort of tribute to a Smokey and the Bandit era Burt Reynolds?" I'm not sure, but I am beginning to ponder potential roles for Grant within the England set-up. Could the team benefit from better foppishness coaching?
Oh Sky "It's Ruud Gullit's brother," chortles Richard Keys in the Sky studio over footage of an overweight fan kicking the ball about during half-time. "Come on man, everyone who's black is my brother?" protests Gullit. Cue more laughter, this time decidedly more awkward.
46 mins Every Fulham player has changed their shirt at half-time. Apparently they've had a problem with the new kit retaining sweat and getting very heavy during games. The team is looking into more long-term solutions.
47 mins No changes to personnel at half-time, and the indications are there will be no real change ot the pattern of the game. United roll the ball this way and that inside the Fulham half before an angled ball forward for Hernandez is put behind for a corner.
48 mins Zamora heads away forcefully at the near post. Incidentally, if that was a slightly awkward moment in the Sky studio then there may be plenty more for the BBC over the course of the season after Sir Alex Ferguson again refused to give them any interviews. The broadcaster is looking into what action it can take - as this is technically a breach of Premier League rules.
50 mins O'Shea's long, low, pass forward for Valencia looks to be rolling out for a free-kick before Konchesky intervenes and puts it out for a throw-in for no good reason. "Re. Fulham's search for a long-term solution to sweaty kit," ponders Justin Horton. "Shouldn't the English winter do the job?"
52 mins Fulham make their first foray into United's half since the break, winning a corner that comes to nothing before Duff floats another delivery over from deep towards the head of Hughes, who diverts it over the bar.
54 mins Another corner for Fulham, another failure to do anything useful with it.
56 mins Fulham win a free-kick three or four yards outside the D after Zamora crumples to the ground after brushing his arm against Scholes. The striker dusts himself off before crushing shot straight into the wall, and then the rebound straight over the bar.
GOAL! Fulham 1-1 Manchester United (Davies 57 mins) And just like that, Fulham are level. Duffs somehow creates room to skip past Evra by half-way on the right before racing forward and playing a short pass to Zamora. The striker breaks into the area down by the goalline before cutting the ball back for Davies, who sidefoots home from eight yards out.
58 mins Van der Sar got a good hand to that effort from Davies but couldn't quite keep it out. Within less than 60 seconds of the goal Paul Scholes is going to ground inside the Fulham area, but the referee waves away the appeal and from a first look I would say rightly so.
61 mins Mark Hughes's first signing with Fulham is about to get his first run out. Moussa Dembele, formerly of AZ Alkmaar, is on for Dempsey.
63 mins Oh, what a waste that was. Davies seized on a loose Valencia pass just inside the United half before ripping into the vast open space where Jonny Evans should be. But after getting all the way down to the edge of the area without even the faintest whiff of a challenge, he cuts the ball back far too sharply and completely misses the two men running in to support him.
64 mins A real penalty shout for Fulham there, as Dembele is pulled back and then pretty much to the ground by Vidic at the near post. "I see the campaign for the reinstatement of David Beckham for England has begun," notes Justin Kavanagh. "Hugh Grant knows his lines well: 'Don Capello, we must never forget the things which make Britain Great?David Beckham's right foot, David Beckham's left foot?'"
66 mins United are making their first substitution now, with Nani coming on for Ji-Sung Park.
67 mins Ooh - looked for a second there as though United were about to re-gain the lead as Dimitar Berbatov's header from Evra's cross deflected off Scholes en route to goal. Stockdale was clearly wrong-footed, but thankfully for him the change in direction was not too significant and he was able to get his chest in front of the ball.
69 mins Evans picks up a booking for holding back Zamora after the striker got goalside of him. Konchesky, curiously, opts not to shoot from the ensuing free-kick but to jab a low pass through towards the penalty spot that is easily cut out.
71 mins Fulham are getting forward with more confidence now than at any point in the match and this time it's Murphy who waits for Scholes to close him down on the edge of the area before opening his body up and trying to curl one into the bottom corner with Van der Sar unsighted. There's not too much power behind the strike, though, and the keeper is able to smother it.
73 mins Damien Duff picks up a yellow card, though we haven't been shown what for. Ryan Giggs is getting ready to come on for United.
74 mins Giggs is coming on for Valencia, but he's not the only one being introduced, as Michael Owen replaces Hernandez. "Re Ferguson's ongoing hissy fit with the BBC (48 mins), you're using the word 'technically' there in the sense of 'clearly, intentionally and without regard to the millions of his fans who do not have access to subscription TV services like Sky and MUFC TV and would like to hear the manager's thoughts direct', then," ponders Gary Naylor. Yup.
77 mins United win a free-kick in a tricky position out on the left and a few yards from the corner of the box. Nani stands over it before arcing a threatening ball over the wall that doesn''t quite dip in time, instead whistling an inch or so over the bar.
78 mins They weren't kidding about thse Fulham shirts retaining sweat. Dickson Etuhu looks like he's wearing a garment made out of body-hugging tracing paper.
80 mins Oh, so close for Zamora. A deep free-kick on the left is angled over towards the far side, and the striker times his run just right to meet it on the corner of the six-yard box. He could have squared it for Etuhu (though replays suggest the midfielder might have been offside when the first ball came in), but tries to side foot it in and the angle is just too tight.
81 mins Jonathan Greening is on for Danny Murphy.
82 mins Vidic gets above the Fulham defence to meet a corner from the left but his header is glanced across the face of goal and wide.
GOAL! Fulham 1-2 Manchester United (Hangeland og 84 mins) Oh dear. United had been beginning to press in the last few minutes but with nothing more than a couple of corners to show for it that Fulham were dealing with just fine. This time again it was a Fulham player who gort there first, Pantsil thumping the ball away with confidence only to see it rebound straight back off Hangeland and into his own net.
Penalty to United! (86 mins) Fulham are doing all the damage to themselves here. Attempting to hump clear another corner, Duff somehow contrives to boot it into his own arm, and Walton points to the spot.
Penalty saved! (87 mins) Nani drives low and to the keeper's right, but Stockdale guesses right and pushes it away!
GOAL! Fulham 2-2 Manchester United (Hangeland, 89 mins) Wouldn't you just know it. Fulham's fans were still busy calling for a penalty that never was when they won a corner on the left. The delivery was perfect, hovering for what seemed like an eternity over the United penalty spot before Hangeland rose up to power it goalwards. Just like with Fulham's first, Van der Sar was able to get a hand to it low to his left, but not keep it out.
90 mins Four minutes of added time coming up.
90 mins (+2) Gera is on for Davies.
90 mins (+3) "Shoooooooooot," appeal the Fulham fans as Gera sizes up his options a few short steps outside the D, but he opts instead to look for the pass outside, and United manage to intercept.
Peep! Peep! Peeeep! That's it from Craven Cottage. A most entertaining second-half with a most unlikely ending, Brede Hangeland on the score sheet for both teams in the space of five minutes. United missed a penalty in-between, and how they will regret that now. That's it from me, thanks for all your emails and sorry I couldn't use more.
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