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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Park thrilled to score

Ji-sung Park was delighted to find the back of the net in United’s 3-0 win over Fulham.

The South Korean international hadn’t scored for the Reds since 31 March 2007, in his last game before a knee injury kept him out of the side until Christmas last year.

At Craven Cottage, Park leapt high to head Paul Scholes’ cross in off the underside of the bar and send United into the break 2-0 up.

“I’m so happy to get the goal,” Park told MUTV. “I really needed it because scoring gives you great confidence. You never know if you’re going to play but today was beautiful!”

Sir Alex rested a number of regulars on Saturday, but United looked comfortable for the duration of the match. Meanwhile, across town at the Emirates, Arsenal needed a late goal to salvage a point against Aston Villa.

“We’ve played really well during the last two games and really shown our quality. It’s been good to see different players come in and do well. The strength of our squad is great and the new players we signed in the summer have adapted very well.”

Despite moving to within a point of the Gunners at the top of the table, Park was determined not to get too carried away.

“It’s good to have closed the gap on Arsenal but we don’t worry too much about what they’re doing. We need to focus on maintaining our good performances and hopefully we can win the title again.” Read more...

Boss hails Reds' professionalism

Sir Alex Ferguson praised his squad's professionalism after the Reds convincing 3-0 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Owen Hargreaves opened the scoring - and his United account - on 16 minutes with a beautiful curling free kick. Ji-sung Park bagged his first goal for nearly a year right on half-time, before a Simon Davies own goal wrapped up the points for United.

"I didn't think we were special, but it was a windy day and in these conditions you need to have good concentration and I think we did the job well and very professionally," Sir Alex told MUTV afterwards.

"I don't think Fulham posed a great threat to us inside in the area, but elsewhere on the pitch they played some good stuff and pressed us well. So that was a test for us.

"Ji-sung's goal killed them really. It was a good goal and I'm pleased for Ji because it's his first in nearly a year. It was also good to see Owen [Hargreaves] get off the mark. I've seen him take free kicks in training and he's very good as he proved today."

The United boss made five changes to the team that so emphatically brushed aside Newcastle last weekend. And the players that came in did their manager proud.

"You have to have faith in your squad and trust the players, and the team I picked today showed a great desire and worked very hard," explained Sir Alex.

"The pleasing thing for me was I was able to use my squad with Tuesday's game with Lyon in mind. It was vital for us to rest Rooney and Ronaldo for that match."

United's win, coupled with Arsenal's draw at home to Aston Villa, means the Gunners' lead at the top of the table is down to one point. Chelsea's 4-0 victory at West Ham has ensured Avram Grant's men are still in with a shout and Sir Alex believes there will be a few more twists and turns before the season's finale.

"The title race has been like a see-saw of late," he said. "We were ahead, then Arsenal went five points clear, now the gap is back to one point.

"And, of course, we're both looking over our shoulders at Chelsea, who enjoyed an emphatic win at West Ham. So it looks as if it's going to be a fantastic run-in.

"The important for us is to keep our momentum going. The players are showing a great appetite to play and the team spirit is very good. Results like those in the last two games against Newcastle and Fulham will only help that." Read more...

Reds quell Benzema reports

Sir Alex Ferguson has moved to clear the air between United and Lyon over speculation linking the French club’s star striker Karim Benzema with a move to Old Trafford.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas complained that United have expressed an interest in the highly-rated 20-year-old striker, which they say is “destabilising”.

But the Reds boss says he has never publicly said that he wants to sign Benzema, and instead has merely commented on his qualities as a player and the threat he poses to United’s hopes of reaching the Champions League quarter finals.

“When you are asked about the quality of a player, you give an honest opinion,” said Sir Alex.

“He is a good player. But we have said the same about Juninho, [Hatem] Ben Arf, and [Jeremy] Toulalan.

"I think [Aulas] is being a little bit mischievous. We have never said that we are interested in Benzema. I haven’t said it yet, and I don’t say we are interested now." Read more...

Fulham Vs. Manchester United Highlights Video Clip

Fulham 0 - 3 Manchester United
15' [0 - 1] O. Hargreaves
44' [0 - 2] J. Park
72' [0 - 3] S. Davies (o.g.)

Fulham Vs. Manchester United Result Report

United earned a valuable three points at Craven Cottage with a comfortable 3-0 win over Fulham, while Arsenal could only manage a draw across town at the Emirates Stadium.

A Simon Davies own goal rounded off the scoring after first-half goals from Owen Hargreaves and Ji-sung Park had put United in the driving seat.

Last season, Craven Cottage was the scene for late drama as Cristiano Ronaldo capped a stunning 88th-minute dribble with a shot to match. It gave the Reds a come-from-behind 2-1 victory and, among fans at least, belief that Sir Alex’s side had the necessary character to go on and win the league.

Today, victory was less dramatic and yet just as significant. With Arsenal stumbling at the Emirates, this weekend could well prove the difference come the end of the season.

Perhaps with one eye on Tuesday’s crucial Champions League match, Sir Alex opted to leave out Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Nemanja Vidic, although he did field former Fulham favourites Edwin van der Sar and Louis Saha.

Saha had a golden chance to put the Reds in front as early as the fifth minute, but sliced wide from 18 yards after Paul Scholes had found the Frenchman from inside United’s half.

Carlos Tevez then went close from distance on seven minutes, forcing Fulham stopper Antti Niemi into a smart save down by his left-hand post. Van der Sar, meanwhile, was called into action a minute later, flinging himself to his right to keep out Danny Murphy’s rasping, dipping volley.

The chance buoyed the home support but it was United who carved out the next chance, Paul Scholes’ shot requiring a brave block from Fulham centre-back Brede Hangeland to keep scores at 0-0.

Hangeland was involved a minute later, however, in the build-up to United’s opener, bringing down Carlos Tevez on the edge of the box. With regular free-kick taker Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench, up stepped Owen Hargreaves to curl home the set-piece in front of the Reds’ travelling fans.

It was the summer signing’s first goal for United and gave the Reds a valuable lead against a Fulham side who, until that point, were growing increasingly confident. Hargreaves’ strike, however, subdued the home team and Nani almost made it 2-0 in the 23rd minute when his long-range strike whistled past Niemi’s post.

The Reds did hit the target shortly afterwards, Paul Scholes’ header looking destined for the corner before Finnish stopper Niemi turned the ball around the post at full stretch.

United, by this stage, were coasting. Certainly, Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown had few worries at the heart of the Reds’ defence, while Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves were controlling the centre of the park.

Nani looked lively on the left wing, his quick feet causing Paul Stalteri all sorts of trouble whenever the Portuguese international reached the goal-line.

Despite United’s dominance, it was Fulham who had the best chance to score the game’s second. A Wes Brown foul near the right touchline gave Jimmy Bullard a chance to swing over a free-kick, which found Danny Murphy unmarked at the back post. Luckily for the Reds, the former Liverpool midfielder powered his header straight at Edwin van der Sar, who saved comfortably on the line.

It was a sharp wake-up call for Sir Alex’s men and the Reds responded by carving out another chance at the other end. This time it was Patrice Evra providing the cross and although Scholes found himself unmarked in the middle, the Englishman’s first touch – usually so close and assured – let him down and the ball trickled into Niemi’s arms.

It was Scholes who laid on the Reds’ second, just two minutes before half-time. Carlos Tevez held the ball up well on the edge of the box before switching play to Nani on the other flank. Scholes, sensing an opportunity to get to the by-line, provided the overlap and Nani duly fed the Reds veteran, who crossed first-time for Ji-sung Park to head into the net via the underside of the bar.

Like Hargreaves, Park’s goal was his first of the season and came just before the interval to give United a deserved half-time lead.

Neither manager made changes at the break and although Fulham did put the ball in the net shortly after the restart, Brian McBride was correctly ruled offside in the build-up.

Craven Cottage soon found its voice but sit was United who looked most threatening. Nani, jeered by the home crowd for what they believed was a dive early in the second half, cut inside before testing Niemi from the edge of the box after Louis Saha’s effort was blocked.

Moritz Volz saw a shot flash wide after taking a deflection off Patrice Evra but it was a sole Fulham spark in an otherwise quiet period for the home side before the hour-mark.

Down the other end, Paul Scholes almost unlocked the Fulham defence again with a sweet clipped ball with the outside of the foot, but Niemi reached the pass ahead of Saha to snuff out of the danger.

American Eddie Johnson then pulled a shot wide before Danny Murphy made way for Alexey Smertin on 65 minutes as Fulham sought to find a way back into the match.

Roy Hodgson won’t have been pleased, then, to see Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo introduced four minutes later.

Ronaldo almost had an instant impact, twisting and teasing Hangeland on the right wing before crossing for Park, whose knock down found Rooney on the edge of the box. The England striker swivelled but struggled to dig the ball out from beneath his feet.

United did find the net on 72 minutes when John O’Shea’s low cross was diverted into his own net by the hapless Simon Davies. It was cruel on Fulham but, in truth, no less than the Reds deserved on a bitingly cold London afternoon.

From then on, it was a case of safety first, although Ronaldo almost added a fourth in injury time to rub salt into the wound. Of course, three was enough and it was three cheers for United at the final whistle as Sir Alex’s men clawed back vital points in the race for the title.

United: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Brown, Evra; Park, Scholes, Hargreaves, Nani (Anderson 75); Tevez (Ronaldo 69), Saha (Rooney 69)

Subs not used: Kuszczak, Pique

Fulham: Niemi; Stalteri, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Murphy (Smertin 65), Volz (Kamara), Johnson (Nevland 90), Bullard, Davies, McBride

Subs not used: Keller, Bocanegra

Attendance: 25,314