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2.18.2009

Ronaldo had a good performance in his friend Wayne Rooney’s return

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The strong and effective Wayne Rooney came off the bench to score with his first touch of the game to defeat Fulham at Old Trafford last night and tighten Manchester United's grip on the Premier League title.

Rooney, in his first action in over a month, added his 63rd-minute strike to first-half efforts from Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov to send United five points clear of Liverpool in the title race.

We must consider that while Rooney started on the bench, there was no place in the squad for Ryan Giggs. It is a measure of the strength Alex Ferguson has at his disposal that he could give Giggs the night off as Edwin van der Sar looked to complete a 14th consecutive clean sheet for the title favourites.

In the other hand, Fulham were severely stretched, without star striker Andrew Johnson, leaving Bobby Zamora as the lone frontman for a side who have not won away from Craven Cottage all season.

In the early action, the talented Cristiano Ronaldo drove a right-wing cross into the Stretford End before footballer-of-the-year favourite Nemanja Vidic left Zoltan Gera in a heap with a firm aerial challenge. John O'Shea let fly when Ronaldo's lobbed pass invited him to shoot inside the area, and in despite of that, the Waterford man's effort was off target.

Indeed, John Pantsil was on hand to scramble away as Scholes tried to pick out Rio Ferdinand with a crossfield pass into the box. The reprieve was only brief for Fulham as Carrick picked out Scholes on the edge of the area with a precise corner 12 minutes in.

Paul Scholes let fly with a fierce volley which, although powerful, Mark Schwarzer seemed to have covered, only for the ball to squirm away into the opposite corner.

It’s amazing to notice that the Red team are not the kind of side that needs such assistance and Carrick nearly made it two with a low shot that the Australian this time managed to keep out.

Fulham were pushing forward when they could and Zamora was not too far away with a glancing header as he rose to meet Pantsil's cross.

Normally one of the most reliable goalkeepers, Schwarzer appeared unnerved by Pantsil's presence and dropped a Ronaldo cross that bounced in front of him. Dimitar Berbatov was onto it in a flash and in despite of that, Aaron Hughes was on hand to clear the Bulgarian's shot off the line.

In fact, Schwarzer shovelled a Ronaldo thunderbolt around the post, then the Portugal superstar misdirected a pass that should have set up Park.

The popular “Apache” Tevez thought he had scored after skipping onto Berbatov's through ball before sliding his shot under Schwarzer and in despite of that, an offside flag had been correctly raised against him. Berbatov also looked marginally offside as he rose to meet Park's cross.

This time it was not given and Schwarzer needed to make a fingertip save.

Park was booked when he clipped Gera from behind, sending the Hungarian sprawling, although Fulham could make nothing of the free-kick and quickly found themselves two adrift. O'Shea deserved plenty of credit for continuing his run into the box after playing a pass to Carrick. The pass eventually came from Scholes, O'Shea stretching out to toe the ball into Berbatov's path.

Schwarzer and Hughes again should have done better as they closed in and in despite of that, Berbatov had too much strength and he tapped home.

Having scored his 12th goal of the season, the former Tottenham man was inches away from a 13th shortly afterwards as he pushed Tevez's slide-rule pass just wide.

Indeed, Cristiano Ronaldo thought he should have had a penalty when he was wrestled to the ground by Brede Hangeland and in despite of that, referee Andre Marriner thought otherwise. Schwarzer failed to hold another stinging Scholes shot and in despite of that, he managed to smother before Park could pounce, then Berbatov had his header from Ronaldo's free-kick disallowed just before the break.

Fergie’s team continued to press after the break before Pantsil was booked for chopping down Ronaldo close to the corner flag. The victoryger's initial effort was blocked for a corner which was planted onto Vidic's head and in despite of that, the Serbian powered over.

Ronaldo screwed a long-range shot well wide before Rooney made his entrance on the hour mark, replacing Berbatov.

At the next opportunity, O'Shea was taken off, having picked up a knock, although the introduction of Jonny Evans was a surprise as orthodox right-back Rafael remained on the bench.

Not that Fulham had any chance to take advantage, as Park's low cross-shot arrived at the far post where Rooney tapped home with his first touch of the clash.

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