There were moments, as Manchester United took apart a desperately weak Fulham rearguard, when this place was transported to better, brighter days. They’d been singing the ’10 Cantonas’ song and each of the three goals which sealed things early were in keeping with a time when they stood on the cusp of greatness.
But the crisp, clinical first-time finishes of Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku did not send electricity through the place. The goals took United sixth but they only temporarily lifted the stadium from a muffled silence.
There were many empty seats, despite the attendance figure of 74,523, and there was late-Wenger era Emirates feel about the place. There is a listlessness: an unmistakable sense that United – 16 points behind next week’s opponents Liverpool – are adrift and must rebuild under a new manager before they can bring the joy back.
Manchester United’s stand-in captain Ashley Young wheels away in celebration after opening the scoring for the home side
Young rolled back the years to bend the ball into the top corner – leaving Fulham goalkeeper Sergio Rico with no chance
United stars surround goalscorer Young after the left back opened the scoring with just 13 minutes on the clock
Mata acknowledges Marcus Rashford after the Man United starlet set up the Spaniard as Jose Mourinho’s men made it 2-0
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
MANCHESTER UNITED XI: De Gea, Dalot, Jones, Smalling (Rojo 58mins), Young, Matic, Herrera, Rashford (McTominay 84), Mata, Lingard (Fred 73), Lukaku
Subs not used: Romero, Pogba, Pereira, Fellaini
Goals: Young 13, Mata 28, Lukaku 42, Rashford 82
FULHAM XI: Sergio Rico, Odoi, Ream, Mawson, Bryan, Seri, Zambo, Schurrle (Cisse 73), Cairney (Vietto 46), Ryan Sessegnon, Mitrovic (Kamara 46)
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Kebano, Johansen, Christie
Goal: Kamara 67
Booked: Zambo, Seri
Sent off: Zambo
Referee: Lee Probert
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The quality certainly revealed that there is greater collective talent that Mourinho cares to talk about. The anniversary of Ashley Young’s last goal for the club passed a week ago. He offered echoes of the winger’s talent which encouraged Sir Alex Ferguson to sign him, in the way that he jinked beyond Denis Odoi, sending the all through legs and racing after it, to curl the ball right-footed high into Fulham’s net.
But it was Marcus Rashford who provided the greatest sense of what United hold, if only they could realise it and build some confidence in him. The Englishman’s performance was not perfect. There were misplaced passes. But his 20-yard shot which wrapped up the win revealed that capacity for the unexpected which could make him a player for the ages at this club.
It was a desperately weak Fulham right flank which allowed him to do so. The same flank from which all three first half goals were scored. Romelu Lukaku – a symbol of the struggle for belief and confidence which has beset this club – unlocked the second, sending Rashford into space behind the defence, from where he spotted Juan Mata and cut back the pass which the Spaniard struck in first time.
Rashford had brought out the sharpest of goalkeeper Sergio Rico’s reactions, with an instinctive, swerving 25-yard effort, before the match was sealed. Lukaku struck home from Mata’s lay-back after Jesse Lingard had sent the diminutive midfielder into space. It was becoming a humiliation by then though Mourinho, in need of this succour, punched the air and slapped the hands of his coaching staff.
The man to whom Fulham have turned, Claudio Ranieiri, needs a lot more than succour. It was the defensive weaknesses of the side which saw Slavisa Jokanovic sacked and though Ranieiri seemed to have bolstered the structure and steadied the ship, this performance made you fear for them.
Odoi was out of his depth and there was a fundamental failing to pick up United’s players as they advanced. Though the home side’s finishes were slick, the goalscorers were untroubled in the process. Ranieri fretted, gesticulated and took his woollen hat off. ‘You’re nothing special,’ sang the Fulham supporters. ‘We lose every week.’
Manchester United’s Mata spreads his hands out wide as he celebrates scoring his fourth goal of the current campaign
Mourinho roars with joy after seeing his side race into an early two-goal lead thanks to Mata’s first-half strike
Manchester United’s David de Gea replicates his manager’s celebration after seeing his compatriot make it 2-0
United maintained their momentum after the break – Lukaku driving wide after Rashford had terrorised Odoi and Ander Herrera doing the same after Rico had cleared a ball straight to United’s front line. They then conspired to concede. Herrera’s tackle on Aboubakar Kamara, who replaced an isolated and ineffective Aleksandar Mitrovic at half-time was untidy and took the forward down. Kamara stepped up and put the penalty kick to David de Gea’s left.
Any hope of recovery was gone when Fulham were harshly reduced to 10 men by Lee Probert, who dismissed Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa for a challenge on Rashford. He’d already been booked for a first half challenge on Lingard.
Then came the moment in which Rashford lit up the stadium – a jinking run at Odoi, who had given him a yard too much space, and a curled shot from the edge of the box which Rico pushed into his net.
It could have been five. Substitute Scott McTominay spurned an easy headed opportunity near the end after Diogo Dalot teed him up. So United had to settle for a winning margin which was their biggest in 13 months
It was Jose Mourinho’s 50th win as Manchester United’s manager though even that number requires perspective, taking him 92 games to achieve, compared with 63 games in the heady days of his first Chelsea spell and 73 games in his second. The road ahead to May still looks long.
Lukaku points to the sky after the under-fire Manchester United forward ended his poor run of form at Old Trafford
The former Everton man taps the ball home after Mata turned from goalscorer to provider to set up his United team-mate
Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri holds his head after seeing his side concede three first-half goals against Mourinho’s United
Paul Pogba is all smiles as he sits on the substitutes’ bench after being dropped for the second consecutive game
Mata and Rashford share a joke with Lukaku after the former Everton and Chelsea star finally broke his Old Trafford drought
Chris Smalling had to be replaced by fellow defender Marcos Rojo early in the second half after sustaining an injury knock
Manchester United legends Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs were in the stands to run the rule over their former side
Ander Herrera gave away a controversial penalty when he was adjudged to have fouled substitute Aboubakar Kamara
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa saw red after picking up a second yellow card during the second half at Old Trafford
Rashford rounded off the goalscoring with eight minutes to go as the United forward beat Fulham’s Rico at the near post