United are chasing the U21 Premier League title, with only four games to go prior to the showdown in West London, and an eventual victory would really turned United’s title bid spark into a flame. Thankfully, both Joe Rothwell and Robin van Persie put their scoring boost on, to make that actually happen.
United with a head start
Warren Joyce’ lads showed intentions from the first minute, attacking Fulham through a few corner kicks, but Liam Grimshaw’s inaccurate attempt from inside the box was the closest to a goal we saw.
Subsequently, United enjoyed lots of possession, without really providing much menace. That changed after about twelve minutes though. Initially, Donald Love overlapped Januzaj and squared a dangerous pass into the box, but Fulham managed to keep the danger at bay. However, United immediately regained possession, and ultimately the ball ended up at Pereira’s feet in his favourite position: Behind the striker and outside the box. And as Fulham’s left back Evans played Van Persie onside, the Dutchman laced his scoring boots and slotted the ball composedly in the bottom corner after being set up by Pereira.
After 17 minutes of play, Fulham’s centre back Buatu Mananga was on the border of handing United a penalty when he tackled Van Persie, but it turned out clumsy by all parts as the Dutchman fell over like a sack of potatoes, and the referee waved play on.
… and extend the lead
Despite United weren’t awarded a penalty – presubably a correct decision – the scoreboard at Craven Cottage went 2-0 up anyway. The home side failed to put on any pressure on Adnan Januzaj on the ball in the middle of the park, and in a Xavi-like manner, he played Joe Rothwell one-on-one with the keeper. As Van Persie did with his left foot, Rothwell mirrored with his right, and Magnus Norman in the Fulham net couldn’t reach the ball before he had to pick it out of the back of the net.
Fulham hanging in there
About half an hour into the game, United were close to extending the 2-0 lead. After stringing together a few passes around and inside the box, Rothwell spotted Van Persie at the penalty spot. The pass was accurate and the former Arsenal player was looking for a goal, but Fulham were saved by the bell as Donnelly came sliding in with a perfectly executed sliding tackle.
Shortly after, Januzaj proved his vision and passing ability. The Belgian had the ball on the right hand side, but put in an extemely accurate chipped through ball to a certain Dutchman, whom the Fulham defence had no clue how to stop. The striker slid in to get a touch, did it, but was ultimately denied by the post, and Donnelly took care of teh rebound.
Rothwell gets his brace
Fulham probably though they were going to only be two goals down at half time, but Joe Rothwell had other ideas. Januzaj was in possession on the right, aimed for Pereira on the edge of the box, but Pereira had already spotted Rothwell and let the ball pass. Rothwell, however, slotted it inch-perfectly into the bottom right corner, and celebrated his fifth goal of the season. Only James Wilson and Will Keane have scored more for United’s U21 this season, and as we know, they both play up-front.
Fulham finally show up… kind of
Fulham tried to pull one back six minutes into the latter half, but the lack of end-product was blatant. Evans took on Love, partly got past him, but the angle was too tight, and the overhit finish went way wide of the goal.
The Whites had another attempt, this time on target, by Mesca when he tried a distant effort towards the net of Lindegaard. Thankfully, it went straight at him after a bounce, and the Dane could’ve saved it blindfolded.
Subsequently, the home side shouted for a penalty just before the hour of play. A cross was knocked into the United box, and it unintentionally hit Tom Thorpe’s arm quite close to the shoulder. «When I played, that was a penalty» was Paddy Crerand’s take in the commentator box as he shook his head, but fortunately the referee – contrary to Crerand – knows the rules, and it’s the eventual intention that matters. Which meant no penalty given.
Framework not sufficient for Van Persie
With 20 minutes to go, United’s number 20 was barely an inch away from extending United’s lead. Kellett overlapped Januzaj on the left, found Robin van Persie, who only had to tap it home, but Jonathan Buatu slid in from his blind side and deflected the shot to rattle the crossbar.
It did actually take 72 minutes before Fulham managed to test Anders Lindegaard properly. The midfielder Noe Baba volleyed an effort on target, but the former Aalesund shotstopper was able to parry it without too much hassle.
Only a minute after, Van Persie entered the stage again, although he didn’t score this time either. Januzaj crossed decently from the left, the Dutchman jumped into the aerial challenge with Baba, but found himself in utter discomfort after the landing on his side. Fortunately, he was able to keep on playing.
However, after hitting both the back of the net, the post and the crossbar once each, Robin van Persie was after all going to get his brace. Joe Rothwell intercepted a sloppy pass by Baba, played the Dutchman through and he replied with a nice little chip over the goalkeeper’s leg to make it 4-0. Both Rothwell and Van Persie were immediately substituted afterwards, for Willock and Weir to come on.
No striker without RvP
Two minutes from time, Sean Goss, who had put in a decent shift, was subsituted for Ashley Fletcher, as he carried a slight injury. Getting on a striker was probably for the best though, as United lost some structure after RvP went off for Weir. When Kellett overlapped and looked to cross some minutes earlier, there were simply no red shirts inside the box.
Hosts finally pull one back
Tom Thorpe hadn’t been as involved as he usually is this night, but when he was challenged aerially by the substitute Stephen Humprhys, he was slightly out of position and the blond attacker headed United’s hopes of a clean sheet into the bin.
United, top of the league
It’s extremely tight in the top of the U21 league, and there are actually eight(!) sides who still can win it, out of the twelve sides in the U21 division 1. Luckily, Warren Joyce’ boys are top, with 34 points from 19 games after tonight, which is four points and a game in hand on second-placed Norwich. If seventh-placed Chelsea win their three games in hand on United though, they’ll equal the 34 points, so nothing is decided just yet. Even Southampton on eighth will be on 31 points if they pick up two successive wins in their two games in hand.
Fulham (1): Norman, Sheckleford, Buatu, Donnelly, Evans – Mesca, Edun (De la Torre 67), Baba, Plumain – Smile – Redford (Humphrys 59)
Subs: Rodak, De la Torre, Elworthy, Humphrys
Goalscorer: Humphrys (90+1)
United (4): Lindegaard – Love, Thorpe, Blackett, Kellett – Grimshaw, Goss (Fletcher 88), Rothwell (Willock) – Pereira – Januzaj, Van Persie (Weir 80)
Subs: O’Hara, Weir, Fletcher, Willock, El Fitouri
Goalscorers: Rothwell (18, 43), Van Persie (13, 80)