Premier League – Nine-man United fall apart at Fulham
Eurosport – Sat, 21 Mar 17:47:00 2009
Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney were sent off as Manchester United slumped to a second straight Premier League defeat, 2-0 at Fulham.
The previously runaway leaders were seen as certainties to retain their crown until they lost 4-1 at home to Liverpool last weekend, and suffered another humiliating setback at Craven Cottage.
Scholes saw red for a brainless first-half handball on the goal-line and Danny Murphy converted the resultant penalty.
Zoltan Gera added a superb second late on, before Rooney was given his marching orders for dissent to complete a miserable afternoon for Sir Alex Ferguson and his players.
It was widely expected that Ferguson would field his strongest side following last weekend’s drubbing against Liverpool, but he sprung a selection surprise, playing Dimitar Berbatov as a lone striker and finding no place in the starting line-up for Rooney, Carlos Tevez or Michael Carrick.
But the striker seized on the rebound and headed goalwards from close range – only for Scholes to repel the ball with a brainless and blatant double-handed bat.
The consequences of his moment of instinctive madness were felt immediately – referee Phil Dowd had no choice but to send Scholes off and award a penalty.
Murphy, who scored three winning goals at Old Trafford in four seasons when a Liverpool player, sent Van der Sar the wrong way with a cool finish.
It is sometimes said that it is harder to play against 10 men than 11, but United had no such luck as Fulham tore into them.
Rooney replaced the dreadful Berbatov at half-time and immediately showed all of the effort, vitality and grit that the Bulgarian lacked.
He hared around the pitch in search of the ball, and supplied Ji-Sung Park with a chance that the Korean fired over from the edge of the box.
At times, Rooney looked like he was taking Fulham on single-handedly, embarking on mazy dribbles around the edge of the area while his team-mates stood around.
Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, let frustration get the better of him after he took umbrage at some sturdy Fulham challenges – notably from John Paintsil.
He flew in with a wild challenge on Murphy to which a stricter referee might have responded with a straight red card, but Dowd settled for a booking.
As the second half progressed, United turned the screw tighter, only to find goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer in prime form.
The Australian veteran produced several superb saves, including a full-length diving parry from Ronaldo and a stunning double save to repel close-range efforts from Park and Rooney.
Gera made the points safe in acrobatic fashion with three minutes to go, as Fulham came away on the counter. The Hungarian flicked up a low Johnson cross and sent an overhead kick past Van der Sar and into the far corner of the net.
The final insult came 60 seconds later as the bad side of Rooney’s game reared its head yet again – he saw a second yellow card after bowling the ball away in anger.