Premier League – United coast past Fulham to go five clear
The returning Wayne Rooney – out for the previous seven matches with a hamstring strain – took only two minutes to bang in a third after replacing Berbatov in the second half.
United were sumptuous all evening, their players angling runs at the visiting defence to pull it apart.
While Rooney returned to the bench, Carlos Tevez started in attack with Berbatov. Cristiano Ronaldo was a constant threat from the right, but the advances of John O’Shea, Park Ji-Sung and Michael Carrick also carried menace.
The Cottagers looked to keep the ball in the early stages, but United were like a tiger crouched in wait ready to spring into action.
Soon enough they made good on that threat, although it was not through one of their flowing attacking moves but rather a set-piece from the training ground.
Carrick floated a corner to where Scholes lurked alone 30 yards out; the veteran met the ball with beautiful technique to send it flying towards the bottom corner.
Visiting goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, whose performance was below par, got across in time but spilled the ball back where he had come from and into the goal, giving Scholes his first league strike for 18 months.
On 17 minutes Fulham came close to ending Edwin van der Sar‘s long run of clean sheets, which now stands at 14 matches. John Pantsil, an occasional lone attacking force from right-back, delivered a cross to the penalty spot where Bobby Zamora arrived to head just past the post.
It was their only chance of the opening half and United should have scored again immediately following it. Ronaldo sent a cross towards the six-yard box and Schwarzer collided with one of his defenders as he sought to deal with it; the ball fell to Berbatov, who took his time and saw his shot blocked on the line.
Tevez had the ball in the net from a Berbatov through-ball but was offside. Six minutes later the Bulgarian adjusted his feet to slide the ball home as Schwarzer dived across futilely.
It was Scholes who provided the chance, chipping over the Fulham defence for O’Shea to slide and knock across goal where Berbatov awaited.
The languid Berbatov should have finished another chance provided by Tevez, tapping just past the post, before heading a Ronaldo free-kick into the goal unmarked on the stroke of the half – only to be denied by the offside flag.
With the game more or less in the bag United came out to enjoy the second half, and as a result some of their urgency tailed away. However there were further chances to score, Scholes passing sideways for Berbatov to drive a shot towards the top corner where Schwarzer tipped over.
A frustrated Pantsil was booked for a late tackle on a speeding Ronaldo before Ferguson injected some fresh blood into the game in the form of Rooney and Jonny Evans, on for O’Shea, who had a slight injury.
And the England striker’s impact was almost instantaneous. When a cross ran long to the right side of the penalty area, Park controlled and centred – and there was Rooney to finish from six yards.
Zamora flashed a shot across goal to threaten Van der Sar’s record and Fulham saw a penalty shout turned down for handball against Nemanja Vidic, but they were isolated incidents as the English and European champions continued to control the play.
The scoreline perhaps flattered Fulham, who were simply second-best on the night to the country’s in-form team – and who will take some stopping if they are to lose their Premier League crown this summer.