Fulham 2 United 2

Despite twice taking the lead, through Paul Scholes’ 150th club goal and a Brede Hangeland own-goal, United were held to a frustrating draw at Craven Cottage.

A bright start from the Reds was rewarded with a powerful long-range strike from veteran midfielder Scholes, but Fulham manfully rode out the storm, clawed their way back into the game and equalised when Simon Davies converted Damien Duff’s low cross.

In a breathless finish to the afternoon, Hangeland struck twice from corners in the space of five minutes; first deflecting home Nani’s centre to put United back into the lead, then powerfully heading in a 90th-minute leveller for the hosts. Irritatingly for the Reds, the Norwegian’s pair bookended a crucial penalty miss by Nani.

As Wayne Rooney was left in Manchester to recover from a virus, Sir Alex Ferguson retained a 4-4-2 formation, and paired Chicharito – making his first league start – with Dimitar Berbatov. The only other change from the side which overcame Newcastle was the introduction of Ji-sung Park, who took the place of Nani on the left wing.

Even without injured goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer in goal, Fulham’s line-up – also 4-4-2 – appeared capable of taking points off United for a third successive year at Craven Cottage.

The hosts were on the back foot early on as United popped passes around with conviction, but struggled to find a route through the Cottagers’ well-drilled defence. Park’s poke was deflected wide after nine minutes, however, signalling the onset of greater penetration. Moments later, only a fine reaction save from David Stockdale kept out Berbatov’s acrobatic volley, but the stand-in stopper was helpless to prevent United taking the lead from the ensuing corner.

Antonio Valencia swapped passes with Park and fizzed a low cross into Berbatov. The Bulgarian’s controlled layoff to Scholes was inch-perfect, as the onrushing veteran arced a powerful 25-yard effort through a cluster of bodies and beyond Stockdale. Following on from magnificent play-making displays against Chelsea and Newcastle, Scholes’ landmark – and trademark – goal was yet further evidence of his enduring excellence.

Fulham’s response was one of defiance, as Simon Davies hooked a volley just over Edwin van der Sar’s crossbar and Jonny Evans had to be alert to cut out Clint Dempsey’s through-ball for Bobby Zamora, but United’s play still carried a menacing edge. Berbatov slipped below the hosts’ radar time and again, dropping deep to collect and spread the ball, while Darren Fletcher governed central midfield with an all-action display. Stockdale was twice called into action by the Bulgarian, tipping away one powerful near-post effort and clutching a stinging 20-yarder into his midriff.

Still Fulham chipped away at United, however, and it took a breathtaking double save from van der Sar to preserve parity. Dempsey’s fine through-ball found Dickson Etuhu, whose first shot was parried out by the Dutchman, while his second was incredibly clawed over by the grounded stopper.

Fulham continued to enjoy the greater momentum of the rest of the first half, and drew level shortly after half-time. Damien Duff’s fine wingplay should have provided an equaliser for Aaron Hughes, who could only head off target, but the Republic of Ireland international soon got his reward. Patrice Evra was left in Duff’s wake by a neat piece of trickery on the right flank, and the winger sped towards goal before feeding Zamora. The latter’s tantalising pull back into the middle of the area allowed Davies to slot home.

The goal was fully merited for Fulham’s spirited, controlled display after a shaky start, and it was no surprise that both teams harboured hopes of victory in the remainder of the second half. It was United who came closest to doing so, as Chicharito fired over from 20 yards and a Berbatov header deflected off Scholes to Stockdale. Nani, Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen all entered the fray, replacing Park, Valencia and Chicharito, and Nani soon went close with a free-kick at the edge of the area.

Nemanja Vidic headed Giggs’ corner narrowly wide as United cranked up the pressure, but a collective lapse in concentration allowed Zamora to fire wastefully wide when a square ball to Etuhu would have given the midfielder a simple conversion.

Soon enough a white-clad player was on target, but at the wrong end. As the Reds turned the screw, Nani’s corner landed amid a cluster of bodies, struck Hangeland on the knee and ricocheted between Stockdale and substitute Jonathan Greening on the line.

If Fulham’s sense of injustice was provoked by the slapstick nature of their concession, it was heightened further when, moments later, Duff was harshly penalised for handball. Handed the chance to wrap up an enthralling game, Nani stepped up but incredibly, Stockdale plunged to his right, palmed the penalty away and kept Fulham’s hopes alive. The importance of that passage of play materialised in the final minute of normal time. The Cottagers equalised for a second time, as Duff’s floated corner was emphatically headed home by Hangeland to cancel out his earlier mistake.

Fulham’s spirit was worth a share of the spoils, but Sir Alex and his players will share seething frustration at having twice surrendered the lead, and passed up a glorious chance to seal the points.

SM: Nasib baik tidak kalah…asal seri jak