David Moyes' Manchester United are finally "playing like Fergie's boys". A three-goal, 22-minute masterclass proved insurmountable for Martin Jol's flagging Fulham side, as the pressure on the Dutchman intensified
Less than 24 hours after Sir Alex Ferguson proclaimed this season's Premier League as "the toughest in a long time", which is perhaps a euphemism for "weakest". Chelsea's lunchtime defeat at Newcastle re-emphasised the League's openness and granted United the chance to continue their mini-resurgence, as they won back-to-back League games for the first time under Ferguson's successor.
United suffered defeat at Craven Cottage just twice under Ferguson and the game wasn't 10 minutes old when they continued their love affair with the ground. Rooney ran behind the dithering Philippe Senderos and selflessly squared for Antonio Valencia to tap in, partly thanks to Phil Jones' decoy surge.
Martin Jol's Fulham flustered and the crowd became easily agitated, with Bryan Ruíz testing the home fans' patience. A second goal for United seemed inevitable, and although Rafael da Silva's last-ditch tackle brilliantly denied Dimitar Berbatov and Steven Sidwell nodded a header wide from the resultant corner, Robin van Persie thrashed home a second on 20 minutes from Adnan Januzaj's through ball. Again, Fulham's disjointed defensive line had been exposed and, soon, it happened yet again.
Van Persie dashed after a ball over the top, checked his options and crossed for the unattended Rooney. The booing and "Jol out" chants loudened. The game was not a quarter old yet the contest had seemingly finished.
"It was a blistering period," Moyes purred. "We could have had another one or two at that time as well."
However dire Fulham were, United offered a ruthless, 20-minute masterclass reminiscent of their evisceration of Norwich in 1993. Moyes had omitted his only signing, the £27 million Marouane Fellaini, from the starting XI but it was of little consequence. Jones and Tom Cleverley aided the fluency having performed auspiciously as a pair in the Capital One Cup win against the Canaries in midweek.
United actually led 3-0 at the pause at Fulham two seasons ago and eventually ran out 5-0 winners. This was a more clinical attacking display, though, all the more refreshing for the boisterous travelling followers in the Putney End following a tentative opening few months of Moyes' era.
"You ought to play like Scott Parker. I play good money to come here," ranted one cantankerous female Fulham fan. Ruíz's emergence as a scapegoat tallies with the fans' growing antipathy with Jol, and with a relegation battle feasibly awaiting grit now seems to be valued over guile. "Out! Out! Out!" they demanded.
Moyes, who will be keenly aware of how pivotal a fourth goal can be dating back to Everton and United's seven-goal encounter in 2004, made an enforced triple substitution at the break. Cleverley and Rafael – who had suffered knocks – were withdrawn for Fellaini and Chris Smalling, while Shinji Kagawa replaced Jonny Evans, who had a stiffened back. Moyes is hopeful the trio will be available for Tuesday's Champions League trip to Real Sociedad.
Fulham were soon in the ascendant. Kasami fired a left-footer wide and the pressing was more aggressive, ostensibly in helpless circumstances. Fellaini ought to have headed in his first United goal but the champions' tempo had drastically dropped and it cost them in the 65th minute.
Substitute Alexander Kačaniklić, not on four minutes, saw his shot deflect past David de Gea, via Wayne Rooney, to reduce the arrears. There was a louder cheer from the Cottagers faithful when Ruíz was hauled off for Adel Taarabt.
Parker, the Whites' outstanding performer, also made way. "You don't know what you're doing," they mutinously cried at Jol. Darren Bent, his replacement, nearly proved them wrong when he lofted a header onto De Gea's bar. Kieran Richardson saw a header flash wide as Fulham failed to capitalise on their momentum and the boos returned.