Manchester United are now unbeaten in seven matches but this win was not emphatic enough to convince sceptics that David Moyes can sustain the club's success. Then again, it did not have to be. United barely had to flex their muscles to seize an unassailable lead by the 22nd minute and simply ambled through the remainder of the match, Fulham's fightback coming too late to jeopardise the visitors' victory.
The hosts' spirit did, at least, subdue criticism of Martin Jol, though the manager remains precariously placed. Jol came into the game beleaguered as Fulham extended their sorry start to the season with an insipid defeat at Southampton last weekend and a mid-week Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City.
The manager needed a performance to restore fans' belief. None materialised when it mattered. Instead Fulham fell a goal behind within nine minutes as United effortlessly pierced a defence that has allowed opponents more shots than any other team in the Premier League this season.
Robin Van Persie received the ball with his back to goal 30 yards out and swivelled and slipped a pass through to Wayne Rooney, who had escaped the attention of the entire home defence. The striker could have scored himself but instead drew the goalkeeper and rolled the ball to Antonio Valencia, who gratefully accepted his first goal of the season by slotting into the net from 10 yards out.
With Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones dominating midfield in the absence of the injured Michael Carrick, United seemed in control, although Fulham did threaten to equalise in the 18th minute when Rafael Da Silva had to make a last-gasp tackle to thwart striker Dimitar Berbatov after a fine pass by Scott Parker. Soon, however, the match was effectively over as United scored twice more in four minutes.
Firstly, Parker lost possession after going down in midfield and, as he bawled for a free-kick, Adnan Januzaj scampered away with the ball before passing to Van Persie, who, again with no Fulham defenders in attendance, smashed into the net from 15 yards out.
Two minutes later Rooney made it 3-0, taking up Van Persie's invitation to tap into the net from close range. United did not have to be at their predatory best to sense blood – Fulham were blithely exposing their own vulnerabilities – but Moyes was still delighted with the interplay between his two strikers, Rooney and Van Persie.
"There were real signs of great combination play between them," said Moyes after the game.
"They both made a goal for each other and there was good link-up play between them. They're both incredibly talented and understand each other."
Jol admitted that as half-time approached he was feeling "very lonely" in his dugout.
But the Dutchman said that he and his players resolved to turn things around during the break. "We have great spirit within the team and we sat together and said we wanted to do it," said Jol.
Fulham were helped by United being forced into a trio of substitutions at the interval, as Rafael succumbed to a twisted ankle, Cleverly had double vision and Evans had back trouble.
Moyes says none of those injuries seem serious but the re-jig at the break – and, no doubt, complacency – led to a drastic deterioration in United's play in the second half, though Moyes, showing solidarity with his fellow manager, preferred to highlight another factor.
"You have to give great credit to Martin Jol," he said. "The way his team came out in the second half was fantastic, it showed you how much they were playing for the team and the club. They made it a really difficult game for us."
Fulham got their reward in the 65th minute, when a 20-yard shot by Alexander Kacaniklic flew into the net via a deflection off Valencia.
Fulham continued to search for a route back into the game but the Craven Cottage crowd did not have cause to cheer again until the 75th minute – and that was ironically, when Jol withdrew the ineffective Bryan Ruiz.
The Dutchman's subsequent decision to replace Parker with Darren Bent was less enthusiastically received but Jol was nearly vindicated as a Bent header from a Berbatov cross bounced off the crossbar.
Fulham's owner, Shahid Kahn, insisted this week that there is no panic at the club over fears of relegation and Jol, unsurprisingly, endorsed his employer's view, saying: "I know that we are better than at least six or seven other teams."