Preamble: Evening all. How are we? Good, good. Me? I'm fine, thanks for asking.

Handily for a man with no pre-prepared preamble, the teams are already in:

Man Utd: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Young, Welbeck, Rooney. Subs: Amos, Jones, Berbatov, Smalling, Hernandez, Scholes, Cleverley.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland, John Arne Riise, Duff, Dembele, Diarra, Frei, Pogrebnyak, Dempsey. Subs: Stockdale, Ruiz, Murphy, Senderos, Etuhu, Briggs, Trotta.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)

Kerim Frei, a maverick talent who has impressed in the odd cameos I've witnessed, gets a start for Fulham in what seems likely from that XI to be a packed midfield. Aaron Hughes and Damien Duff also come into the Fulham side. For United Hernandez drops to the bench with Young returning and Giggs is preferred to Scholes in the middle of midfield.

The bare facts

Fulham have not won at Old Trafford since 34BC, when Junichi Inamoto scored the final goal in a 3-1 win. In the Cottagers' past eight visits to Old Trafford they've come away with precisely zero points. Martin Jol has never beaten Manchester United as a manager in the Premier League. Away win anyone?

Here's Martin Jol: "If you make it difficult for them, they have a few questions to answer," he tells Sky's man in the tunnel. Wonderfully enigmatic statement that. Hopefully it suggests his side will take the game to United. We shall see.

And here's Sir Alex: "We have a deficit in goal difference, so I hope we can catch that up. It's going to be an important issue." United's goal difference is currently +46, Manchester City's +50.

U-turn dept. I'd not really been on the Gary Neville bandwagon previously, but his pre-match TV analysis has been excellent tonight, particularly on Tottenham and Manchester City. Someone give me a leg-up.

Click-clack, click-clack … the teams are in the tunnel.

ADVERTS, ADVERTS, ADVERTS … Drink lager, gamble loudly and in Italian, bank, erm … paint your house (possibly), eat egg-shaped chocolate that seems to have gotten smaller and smaller over the years, buy an unnecessarily large car …

PEEP! Off we go then, with United kicking from left to right. Or, if your watching in HD 3D, from left to right.

2 min: Fulham seem to have set up in a 4-1-4-1, with Diarra the holding man in midfield.

4 min: With Duff and Fry on the Fulham wings we have the start of a Matt Groening XI on the pitch. You may have guessed this has been a low-key opening.

5 min: United string together more passes than a village idiot on Mastermind, but Fulham remain compact and they go nowhere.

6 min: "Bad news for you I'm afraid," notes Robin Hazlehurst. "The chocolate eggs have not got smaller. It is us who got bigger." This I will not accept. My hands haven't really grown since I was 12. Evra's burst has Fulham scrambling for the first time, but Rooney plants his shot into a defender.

8 min: Rooney picks a Fulham pocket in midfield and then surges forward, but his pass is just behind Welbeck. Valencia dinks in a cross that drifts too deep. Like Derby city centre, it's all one-way traffic at the moment.

9 min: Fulham finally get a foot on the ball, but Duff's pass in the direction of Pogrebnyak is over optimistic.

10 min: Rafael swerves into the box and delivers the ball onto Ryan Giggs's tastefully greying noggin on the penalty spot. He gets his neck into the header but Schwarzer gathers comfortably.

12 min: Duff pulls a low cross back to Dempsey. The American just about turns a shot at goal, but Carrick makes a block. Corner …

13 min: … De Gea punches away from under his own crossbar as Carrick's defensive header loops into the night sky. Decent stop and United scramble clear.

15 min: Rooney finds Young over on the right, but his cross plops into Schwarzer's hands.

17 min: Dembele trundles forward but wangs his shot well wide of De Gea's goal.

18 min: Fulham's turn for a little possession football. The wind has rather gone from United's sails since that early 10-minute burst.

19 min: Dempsey finds himself between United's midfield and defence inside the home side's half and wriggles forward. Evans backpeddles, but Dempsey's shot is snaffled by the keeper.

20 min: Hughes flies out to block Young's shot from the edge of the box. "You must not be a fan of Wallander, John," notes Nicholas. "The village idiot is not to be underestimated."

22 min: "My team Cheltenham, in a last throw of the dice/save our season/clutch of straws, have signed Burgess & McLean, albeit not the cold-war spying duo of the same name, on loan till the end of the season," writes Keith Wright. "Do our readers know of any other namesake duos in tandem at a club at the same time? Did anyone ever have a Laurel & Hardy? A Marks & Spencer? A Stanley & Livingstone?"

23 min: Dempsey again tests De Gea, who leaps in remarkably feline fashion to claw a curling shot out of the air.

24 min: Young slides a beautiful pass inside Kelly for Welbeck to sprint on to. Hughes blocks it out for a corner. Which is cleared as far as Valencia. Who fails for a second time in the match with a strange straight-legged dinked toe-poke of a cross.

26 min: Young whips in a cross. Fulham head clear. Apologies for the lack of scoreline at the top of the page, by the way. We fed the mogwais after midnight last night and now there are gremlins in the system. Just so you know, it's still 0-0.

28 min: Valencia skitters into the box and plays a one-two with Welback, but Fulham keep him out with some pretty desperate last-ditch defending. Riise made a crucial block in the midst of it all.

30 min: "For a while at Ipswich we had Jamie Peters and Alan Lee," suggests Tony Cowards on our partnership theme, "although I don't think we ever fielded them as the strikeforce Peters and Lee." United force another corner …

31 min: … "Go, go, go" shouts someone in the Old Trafford crowd as they play it short. The ball ends up at head height 10 yards out where Evra attempts an overhead kick. Aesthetics: 10 points. Accuracy: 7.5 points. Goal kicks: 1.

32 min: Rafael plays a one-two with Valencia, taking to two defenders out of the game. His jabbed shot is straight at Schwarzer. "In answer to Keith Wright (22 mins) we, i.e. Bristol City, had Matt Bryant and Andy May fairly regularly in our line-up for a period in the 1990s," writes Alan Gibbs. "We didn't win many matches ..." Bom tish!

33 min: Giggs going flying in on Dembele and gets a booking. "Didn't Lennon and McCartney play together for Northern Ireland?" wonders Finnur Birgisson. "George McCartney and Neil Lennon that is."

35 min: Frei tumbles under Rafael's challenge and United rampage forward. Welbeck, though, like a fish with wanderlust, only has eyes for the net. But his shot is tame and straight at Schwarzer once more.

38 min: Valencia and Rafael go all warm cutlery and churned dairy spread down the right, and from the pull-back Giggs is perhaps unlucky not to get a free-kick on the edge of the box.

40 min: "HANDBALL!" goes up from behind the goal. Evra has whacked a cross into Kelly's arm. No penalty.

GOAL!!! Manchester Utd 1-0 Fulham (Rooney 41) Young delivers an inswinging cross from the right so tasty you could serve it with mustard and call it dinner. Riisse misses his clearing header, Evans scrambles it back to Rooney, who roofs the thing from eight yards. A scrappy goal to concede, but it was that cross that made it.

44 min: Valencia again skips and pops, like a chip in a deep fat fryer, into the area, but his low pass is behind the run of the front two.

45 min: Dempsey's deflected shot almost falls straight into Pobgrebnyak's path, but the Russian can't quite get his legs sorted in time in order to rattle off a shot. "Does this count?" wonders Simon Frank. "David Currie and Brian Rice, at Forest together for a few games in the late 80s."

Peep! That'll do for Half No1.

Half-time email dept.

"Hungry John?" wonders the concerned Robin Hazlehurst. "Young serves dinner (an egg I presume, if Evans scrambled it) then Valencia is a chip ... Is the half-time snackathon approaching by any chance? How many chocolate eggs will you be scoffing in the break? (remember, they're only little, you can have another...)" Strangely enough, I've not long had my tea. Still, as is company policy, the completed MBM will be sent off to psychoanalysts for testing after the final whistle.

"Butler and Blakey from On the Buses (Paul and Nathan in fact) featured weekly for Wolves in the early 2000s," writes Aidan Arrowsmith, "although the search for comedy gold is better served by the Wanderers of 2012, especially the defence."

"A personal favourite of mine is when Ireland have Shane Long and Simon Cox up front," notes Colm Collins. I'll let you all add your own punchline

"They're not players with famous namesakes, but not too long ago Charlton had a back four of Young Fish Costa Fortune," notes Matt Dony. "Any other complete sentences in teams?" Wasn't there a World Cup 1994 (or perhaps 1998) combined XI that ended "Ipoua Egan Hoftun"? Any Fantasy Football fans remember that one?

PEEP! Refreshed by oranges and lashings of tea served in Pyrex mugs, Fulham kick off the second half.

46 min: De Gea does superbly to snaffle a low Kelly cross with attackers loitering.

47 min: Giggs lofts a beautiful pass through to Valencia, who catches his shot sweetly but is denied by Schwarzer.

48 min: Hughes skews a clearance horribly away for a corner, but Fulham, like removal men with a small van, complete the clearance at the second attempt.

50 min: United have started this half as they started the first. Fulham under the cosh.

52 min: Carrick blocks Hangeland's pass out of defence and from the resultant attack Schwarzer is forced to palm wide from Young's low curling shot.

54 min: In other news, Inter have sacked Claudio Ranieri and replaced him with youth coach Andrea Stramaccioni, who just took the Inter youth side to victory in the NextGen Series.

56 min: Lovely football from United almost carves Fulham open once more. Hangeland's block denies Welbeck.

57 min: Dembele is close to strolling straight through the middle of the United defence. But, as Jesse 'The Body' Ventura used to say, close only counts with horseshoes and handgrenades, Gorilla.

59 min: United have had 70% of the possession in the first 15 minutes of this half.

62 min: Hernandez replaces the largely ineffectual Welbeck.

64 min: More pass, pass, pass from United. "The most enjoyable thing about a drab 0-0 draw between Walsall and Hartlepool a couple of weeks ago was the presence of a Sadler in Walsall's team and waiting to see if both Hartley and Poole would make it onto the pitch at the same time for the opposition," writes Ben Ellis. We had a Knowledge column on the very topic of nickname nominative determinism late last year.

66 min: Off comes Kerim Frei, who has struggled to make much of an impact, and on comes Bryan Ruiz. "Notwithstanding the exorbitant price of piscine infants," writes Alex Pratchett, "my current Saturday team once fielded a back four comprising Messrs Burn, Burn, Birnie and Fry – surely the hottest defence in football history?"

67 min: Giggs scuffs a shot well wide after a lovely Rafael surge through a gap and into the heart of the Fulham defence.

70 min: This half has bascially been the first, but without the interlude of Fulham attacks. United press almost continually but have struggled to carve out any genuine, 24-carat goalscoring chances.

72 min: Riise lumps a free-kick haplessly forward, straight through to De Gea with barely a Fulham player in sight.

73 min: Evans goes through Dembele and is perhaps a touch fortunate to escape a booking. Murphy, by the way, has replaced Diarra, and Ferdinand has just been replaced by former Fulham man Chris Smalling.

74 min: A fantastic double save from Schwarzer prevents United putting this game to bed. A deep cross finds Young, who volleys crisply at the keeper, who palms away the shot then spreads himself to deny Young a second time. From the follow-up Giggs spanks his shot at Hangeland with the goal gaping

76 min: Murphy rakes a ball over the top that evades Dempsey by this much. Then Pobgrebnyak wastes a fine attacking chance with an ugly ball in the vague direction of the onrushing Ruiz.

79 min: Apropos of nothing, did you know Fatty Arbuckle's real first name was Roscoe? And speaking of nicknames, Chicharito pokes weakly at goal. Seamless.

81 min: De Gea punches clear from an inswinging free-kick delivered from halfway.

82 min: The keeper landed quite awkwardly on his wrist after that clearance. He's holding it a little gingerly, but should be OK to continue.

83 min: Fulham aren't breaking with much vim and vigour, but you can hear the Old Trafford crowd murmur nervously whenever they do so. Dempsey wins a free-kick from Scholes, wide on the left …

84 min: … De Gea punches half clear. His defence do the rest of the job. "Before anyone beats me to the punch," writes Alastair Binnie, "I'd like to mention that New York Red Bulls currently have the heavyweight strikers Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper."

86 min: Loose passes in midfield from United have the Old Trafford crowd howling with nervous tension. This is what a title run-in looks like. Or sounds like, anyway.

88 min: Huge penalty shout for Fulham! Cracking ball from Ruiz to Murphy, Carrick taps him on the foot, the Fulham man goes down … but Michael Oliver is unmoved!

90 min: Carrick always looked like he was struggling – he was behind Murphy to make the challenge. "You don't get those in the 89th minute at Old Trafford," notes someone across the other side of the office.

90+1 min: Three minutes added time to play.

90+3 min: Smalling and Rafael clear under pressure from Ruiz. Whistles echo around the ground …

Peep! Peep!! PEEEEEEEEP!!! … and Michael Oliver blows the only one that matters. United go three points clear at the Premier League summit.

Well, a far from vintage United performance, but then how many times have we said that this season? They've still racked up 10 points more than they had after 30 games last year. And will probably win the title. Right, that's it from me. Thanks for your company and your emails. I'm off to feast on thousands of tiny Creme Eggs. Cheerio!