Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fulham gets a late equalizer

Brede Hangeland redeemed an earlier own goal to head in a deserved equaliser as Fulham came from behind twice to take a share of the spoils.

It had looked like the defender had gifted Manchester United all three points as a nasty deflection off his shin had put United in front with just eight minutes remaining.

Both teams started off lively at Craven Cottage, with the majority of possession belonging to Manchester United, with the home side trying to rely mainly on the counter attack.

As United continued to keep the ball and pushed further forward, it was only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken, and Dimitar Berbatov was unlucky not to see his name on the scoresheet as a brilliant acrobatic volley was tipped over by an even more spectacular save from David Stockdale.

In the end it was only going to be one man to provide the breakthrough and Paul Scholes did just that. A fantastic lay-off from Berbatov allowed Scholes to run onto and drill a low, blistering shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Stockdale’s net from 25 yards out to register his 150th goal in all competitions for United.

Unlike with Wigan Athletic yesterday, Fulham kept their heads up after going down and came close to an immediate response when Bobby Zamora’s flick-on found Simon Davies, who attempted an impressive volley which sailed just over the angle of post and crossbar from 20 yards.

But United kept coming back as Javier Hernandez, who started in favour of Michael Owen, came close to scoring his first goal in the Premier League when he pounced on a Darren Fletcher pass to fire just wide from the edge of the area, followed by a fierce drive from Berbatov which was foiled by a strong hand from Stockdale.

Despite the continued pressure from last season’s runners-up, Fulham suddenly found themselves with a golden opportunity to equaliser and Dickson Etuhu really should have. A neat flick into the box by Clint Dempsey let the Nigerian in, and his first low shot was well saved by the Dutchman in goal and then the rebound was powered into the pitch to pop up for Edwin Van der Sar, who was still on the floor, to grasp out and tip the ball over the bar for a fantastic double save.

Fulham again refused to be demoralised and an entertaining end-to-end game was materialising.

Fulham came out at the beginning of the second half in a new set of strips due to the old set were “sweat-retaining”, and, as with the famous United kit change against Southampton in 1996, it immediately paid dividends as 10 minutes into the second half Fulham were level.

Clever work on the right flank by Damien Duff found Zamora in space in the area, his smart cut-back allowed an onrushing Simon Davies to hammer past Van der Sar for a deserved equaliser.

The Cottagers could have found themselves in front mere minutes later as Nemanja Vidic appeared to pull Moussa Dembele over inside the area, but the referee waved away the strong penalty appeals.

As the game entered the latter stages, both teams were going all out for the win, first Nani whizzed in a Cristiano Ronaldo-esque freekick, that dipped a little too late to really trouble Stockdale, then, down the other end, Paul Konchesky floated in a long free-kick aimed at Zamora, the England international connected with it well but could only watch in vain as it trickled past the far post.

Zamora may have lived to regret that missed chance as just five minutes later, Ryan Giggs whipped in a corner for United and, with no red shirts around him, Brede Hangeland was the victim of a nasty deflection off his knee to send the away team into the lead of the second time.

The drama wasn’t over there either as just one minute later, United were given the chance to put the game to bed as Damien Duff was harshly ruled to have handled the ball inside his own area, but Stockdale, who was fantastic throughout the match, was more than a match for Nani’s penalty attempt.

Fulham would survive to thank Stockdale, as in the 90th minute of normal time, Brede Hangeland redeemed himself for the earlier own goal to jump high and power a header low past Van der Sar in goal to bring the west London side back level for the second time and to give his team a deserved share of the spoils.

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