MAN UNITED 2, FULHAM 2
Manchester United’s troubled campaign continued as they failed to beat bottom-of-the-table Fulham at Old Trafford.
In a dramatic finish, Fulham substitute Darren Bent headed a 94th minute equaliser to provide further misery for the Reds.
Steve Sidwell had given Fulham a first-half lead which they successfully defended for almost 50 minutes as United stared a fifth home defeat and ninth league loss of the campaign.
United, who needed a win to keep alive their slender hopes of a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League, thought they had produced a remarkable comeback when they scored twice in the space of as many minutes from Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick late in the game.
There was a sting in the tail though as Fulham, who were beaten at home by League One side Sheffield United in the FA Cup in midweek, hit back at the death to pick up a precious point in their battle to beat the drop.
It was a frustrating afternoon as United enjoyed 75-per-cent possession but could not translate that into a victory.
That was shared by manager David Moyes who declared: “I don’t think we could have done much more other than defend better for the goals and perhaps take our chances.
“We dominated the game completely, but we could convert when we had half chances. We must have got the ball into their box 150 times.”
Moyes added the one failing was not going for another goal to make it 3-1 which would have killed the game.
“Those moments cost us. It was comfortable and we should have seen out the game. May be it is mental softness to see out the job,” he continued.
Rafael Da Silva and Darren Fletcher replaced Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones, the two changes from the side which kicked off at Stoke City in their previous Barclays Premier League fixture.
Fulham had a couple of notable omissions from their starting line-up, central defender Brede Hangeland and midfield man Scott Parker.
Fulham sprang a surprise by taking a 19th minute lead after United’s defence was carved open by a defence-splitting pass from Lewis Holtby.
Sidwell ran through a yawning gap in the centre of the back lone to volley low past keeper David De Gea from 10 yards.
The goal sparked a sense of urgency from United which had been lacking in the opening exchanges when their play had been flat.
It took United almost half an hour to create their first meaningful chance, a 30-yard drive from Carrick which flashed just past the upright.
United were lucky not to fall further behind after a Fulham breakaway from a home corner. Muamer Tankovic released Kieran Richardson who blazed over with just De Gea to beat.
Carrick forced a fabulous save from keeper Maarten Stekelenburg while Robin van Persie’s follow-up shot was blocked as United came within a whisker of drawing level.
Early in the second half Stekelenburg pulled off another super stop to acrobatically turn over a close-range shot from Wayne Rooney and then did well to keep out a header from Rafael as United pressed forward in pursuit of an equaliser.
They also had shouts for a penalty rejected claiming a handball by defender Dan Burn.
United threw on Adnan Januzaj, Antonio Valencia and Javier Hernandez to try and find that elusive route to goal which had eluded them throughout an increasingly frustrating afternoon.
The equaliser finally came in the 78th minute when Juan Mata diagonal pass was swept home by van Persie from inside the six-yard box, his third goal in as many games and his 13th of the campaign.
And less than two minutes later came a second goal from Carrick, a 25-yard shot which took a deflection off substitute Parker as it found the top corner of the net. It was his first goal of the season.
Fulham were not beaten and drew level in the 94th minute when de Gea could only parry a fierce drive from former United player Richardson and Bent headed home at the far post for only his third goal of the season.
It was a great lift for Fulham in their pursuit of safety as manager Rene Meulenstein, who was Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-team coach last season, remarked saying: “I am sure some people think we are dead and buried, but we are far from that. We have too much quality in our side.
“I hope it is the turning point. If you came into the dressing room afterwards, you would have thought we had won the game.”