Manchester United 1 - Fulham 3

Saturday 25th October
Old Trafford, Manchester

Alex Ferguson was left rueing his decision to change his midfield round following the tough Rangers game. With no Champions' League game this week, Sir Alex could have given his first-teamers a weeks' break anyway, but he felt that Keane, Neville, and Scholes, all instrumental in the Glasgow win, needed the extra rest.

With the title run-in clearly in his mind, Fergie started the game with Butt and Djemba-Djemba in midfield, with neither having played in weeks. It was their sluggishness that ultimately game Fulham the chance to take a full three points from Old Trafford.

United fell behind after just three minutes, with Lee Clark firing home after an unfortunate and untimely slip by Silvestre. United were not on top of their game, and it could easily have slipped to two or three nil inside the first twenty minutes, with Tim Howard and the cross-bar to be thanked. Howard was in good form, with his display helping to keep the score down to just three goals, none of which he could be blamed for.

On the stroke of half-time, after 45minutes of soaking up pressure only to give the ball away again when they got it, United equalised. Forlan was put through, and his clinical finish was of such quality that 'keeper van der Sar didn't even move.

If Forlan had been able to finish again early in the second half, the Reds would certainly have gone on to win the game. From an easier and less acute angle he blasted wide of the Fulham goal, and United's pressure relented.

Against the run of play, Fulham raced up the pitch, with the inspirational Steed Malbranque. Rio missed the header in his own box, leaving the young French international to concentrate on hitting the back of then net, which he did with venom.

United pushed forwards, but were unable to hold on to the ball, with Butt and then Djemba-Djemba giving the ball away cheaply, time after time. There was a lack of vision in the centre of midfield, which was rectified by Paul Scholes when he came on with twenty minutes to go.

Even the ginger-haired maestro could do little though, as Fulham scored a third goal to put the tie effectively out of Man United's grasp.

Inamato's instinctive volley from the edge of the area summed up Fulham's lucky day.

Bellion was thrown into the play, but, whilst creating space for the other strikers, had little impact on the play. Van Nistelrooy hasn't scored in three games no, which by his standards is a goal-drought.

Fergie only has himself to blame for resting his key players, with the big man himself accepting that putting Butt and Djemba-Djemba, who were both lacking match practice, was a big mistake.

United will bounce back from this defeat, and they remain just two points off the top.

Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre (Fortune 45), O'Shea, Ronaldo (Scholes 69), Djemba-Djemba (Bellion 80), Butt, Giggs, Forlan, van Nistelrooy.

Subs Not Used: Carroll, Fletcher.

Booked: Forlan, Djemba-Djemba, Fortune, Giggs.

Fulham: Van der Sar, Volz, Goma, Knight, Bonnissel (Djetou 74), Malbranque, Pembridge (Inamoto 32), Clark, Legwinski, Boa Morte (Hayles 86), Saha.

Subs Not Used: Crossley, Melville.

Booked: Inamoto, Knight.

Attendance: 67,727

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).