There was no Grand National glory for Sir Alex Ferguson but Manchester United continue to power their own way towards the Premier League title.First-half strikes from Dimitar Berbatov – his 22nd of the season – and Antonio Valencia with his first since August allowed United to surge ten points clear of nearest challengers Arsenal. And, if they can keep a steady course over the final six hurdles, United will achieve what Ferguson’s Aintree hopeful What A Friend was unable to and finish ahead of the chasing pack.
In a football sense at least, it must be quite nice being Ferguson at the minute. Robbed of Wayne Rooney’s services for a couple of games thanks, in his eyes, to some unjust treatment from the Football Association, the United boss could just pluck another striker from his impressive roster.
In this instance it was the Premier League’s top scorer and a man who bagged five in one game earlier this season.Berbatov had only started one league game since that dismal defeat at Wolves over two months ago, the equally miserable loss at Liverpool. On home soil at least though, the Bulgarian is a man to be trusted.
It did look like he was cursing when Nani ran into a crowd of Fulham defenders on the edge of the area instead of playing a simple pass to the flanks.
But, making a mockery of his absence from the seven-man shortlist for PFA player of the year, Nani squeezed a pass to Anderson, then flicked the return to his left for Berbatov.
TV replays indicated the striker was just offside. It was very tight though and Berbatov was not hanging around as he slotted his shot beyond Mark Schwarzer.
It was exactly what United were looking for so early in the contest and the points should have been wrapped up when Berbatov skipped past Carlos Salcido and Brede Hangeland by the touchline and burst into the box before rolling a pass back to Anderson. Goalscoring, though, is not the returning Brazilian’s forte.
Back after a nine-match absence with a knee injury, Anderson never looked like improving a return of two goals in 121 previous appearances and dribbled a terrible effort wide.
United did get their second though, just after the half-hour when Schwarzer inexplicably raced to the touchline to try and make a clearance he was never going to manage given Nani had the speed to get there first.
The Portugal winger showed his selfish streak by going for goal himself rather than present Valencia with a tap-in.
Aaron Hughes did it instead, turning Nani’s shot away with his head but merely offering Valencia the chance to nod home from two yards as a consequence.
It was Valencia’s first goal since the Community Shield and his return to action from a major knee injury suffered one month later is another reason Ferguson has been rejoicing.After an enterprising start, Fulham had been overwhelmed.
They retained enough spirit to bring an outstanding save from Tomasz Kuszczak, though, as substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen curled a shot goalwards from 25 yards.
It was a confusing piece of play all round as, from their angle, the Fulham fans thought it had gone in and referee Mike Jones awarded a goal-kick rather than the corner which would have been due reward for Kuszczak.
The game drifted onwards in such a mundane manner, Ferguson could have used the telephone installed in the directors’ box to overcome communication problems during his five-match touchline ban to keep up with events at Liverpool.
He didn’t though, limiting himself to a couple of conversations with coach Rene Meulensteen as he made the substitutions required to keep his players fresh for Tuesday’s Champions League return.
Anderson and Berbatov were both denied by Schwarzer, the first after another uncharacteristic mistake from the veteran Australian.
By the end, even John O’Shea was trying his luck, advancing from his right-back role to let fly from the edge of the area.
Paul Scholes had a go as well. They were both out of luck – just as Ferguson had been – but as they approach a week that starts with that Champions League decider with Chelsea and ends at Wembley against Manchester City, the overall United picture is rosy indeed.