Fulham were the perfect opponents for a team hoping not to expend any unnecessary energy before facing Paris Saint-Germain. Manchester United did not have to be at their dashing best to continue their stunning resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but they still could have scored a hatful as they regained a spot in the top four for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.
They settled for three in the end and Solskjær was able to keep Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard on the bench before United welcome PSG to Old Trafford for the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie on Tuesday night. A brace from Paul Pogba and a sensational solo goal from Anthony Martial were enough for the Premier League’s form side, who have picked up 25 points from nine games since replacing José Mourinho with Solskjær in December.
While United’s supporters revelled in watching the legendary figure in the dugout mastermind another victory, Fulham’s fans booed Claudio Ranieri down the tunnel after the final whistle. The atmosphere in the stands was mutinous and the odds are against the team with the worst defensive record in the division pulling off a miraculous escape given that they are seven points adrift of 17th place with 12 games remaining.
Craven Cottage, normally such a genteel place to watch a game of football, was an angry place when Ranieri replaced André Schürrle with Cyrus Christie in the 53rd minute. The locals were aggrieved to see two of their favourites, Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney, kicking their heels on the bench until deep into the second half and made their feelings clear, aiming loud chants of: “You don’t know what you’re doing” at a manager who appears to have run out of ideas after three months in the job.
The frustration for Fulham was they could have been ahead by the time United took the lead with their first shot, only for Luciano Vietto to waste a glorious opportunity inside the first minute, scuffing wide at the far post after being picked out by Schürrle.
A strong wind was making the ball move weirdly in the air and it took United a while to adjust in challenging conditions. Not too long, though, given they began to look threatening once Pogba decided it was time to take charge in midfield. The Frenchman’s authority on the ball settled his teammates and it soon became clear United had a plan to get Martial running at Denis Odoi on the left.