x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fulham run rings around shaky United defence

Bobby Zamora leads the Londoner's charge in a shock 3-0 win against the Premier League champions.

LONDON // The cries of "Bobby Zamora for England" did not seem so far-fetched yesterday as the Fulham striker helped humble the Premier League champions with a powerful performance. When his manager Roy Hodgson mentioned him as a possible option for Fabio Capello's squad, it resulted in much mirth. But another impressive display, capped by a fifth goal in four games, showed Zamora's claim should not be dismissed so easily.

He is a man in superb form, as Manchester United can testify following a worrying second defeat in three games. With Nemanja Vidic unable to shake off a calf strain, United went into the game with an injury-riddled defence that looked decidedly lopsided. Darren Fletcher returned to start at right back as Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to juggle yet again, with Patrice Evra the only first-choice player starting in the backline.

It was wise decision not to move Paul Scholes in there, with tackling probably the only art he has not mastered during his 16-year career. In this corresponding fixture in March, Scholes was sent off after just 17 minutes. Barely six had passed yesterday when he received a yellow card for a crunching mistimed challenge on Damien Duff that left the Irishman hurting. But, even with the threat of dismissal, Scholes has never been one to change his approach and two minutes later he dived in to bring down Zamora on the edge of the box. It needed to be perfectly timed and it was.

The fiery midfielder became the game's central figure and his carelessness proved costly in the 22nd minute. Scholes was caught and robbed in possession by a determined Danny Murphy and the Fulham captain's instinctive 25-yard drive squeezed into the corner. Tomasz Kuszczak's positioning might be questioned over the goal, but five minutes earlier he had rescued United with a splendid reflex save. Zamora chested down perfectly into the path of Zoltan Gera, whose volley was pushed over by the Pole's left hand .

Gera was troublesome with his runs from midfield and provider another chance for the confident home side. His chip into the box was met by Zamora, but, charging in, he could not direct the header goalwards. United, with Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen in tandem up front, could not break free from Fulham's defensive straightjacket. Rooney steered a header wide, but was frustratingly restricted to long shots and drifted deep in the hope of better chances. They did not materialise, and United were still 1-0 behind at half-time.

The second half was barely a minute old when Fulham stunned the visitors with a second goal. Straight from the restart, they attacked down the right with Duff and his cross was knocked down into the box by Clint Dempsey for Zamora to blast past Kuszczak. The Craven Cottage crowd rose to acclaim the frontman. His transformation was complete - once considered hapless, now hero-worshipped. And justifiably so. Zamora led Fulham's front line superbly, holding the ball up for Gera and Dempsey to create numerous problems.

Gera came close to a third goal, lashing over with a 30-yard effort. It was audacious and ambitious, and it showed just how much Fulham were in control. It took United 50 minutes to test Mark Schwarzer. Antonio Valencia made a forceful run and his low shot was held by the Australian goalkeeper. Ferguson needed more attacking impetus and brought on Dimitar Berbatov, as well as replacing the hassled Ritchie de Laet with Fabio da Silva and moving Fletcher alongside Carrick in the centre.

It made little difference and Fulham deservedly got a third in the 75th minute. Inevitably, Zamora was involved, setting up Duff for a crisp volley. akhan@thenational.ae