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Match report: Fulham 2, Man Utd 2

23 August 2010

As Jake noted yesterday in the Twitter feed, this game was a perfect representation of why Sepp Blatter’s proposal to eliminate group-play draws at the World Cup is flawed. Both of us — and Sir Alex Ferguson, in post-match comments — thought Fulham fully deserved a point, having outplayed the Red Devils for much of the affair after United’s flying start gave them a 1-0 lead.

It’s hard to tell too much about Mark Hughes’ style after two matches, but his team showed the same fight and entertaining play at home as Roy Hodgson’s crews. It looked like Hughes was playing Clint Dempsey and then Moussa Dembele more as a second striker in a classic 4-4-2, rather than where they probably should be — on a wing in more of a 4-2-3-1, but perhaps that adjustment will come after Hughes gets more familiar with his personnel.

The one disappointment I had was it felt like Hughes called off the dogs with about 15 minutes left and seemed to content to see out a 1-1 draw. The surging, innovative buildups stopped, Fulham dropped deeper and absorbed pressure, removed engine Danny Murphy for the really mediocre Jonathan Greening, conceded way too many cheap corners and ultimately paid with an unfortunate own-goal off Brede Hangeland’s shin. David Stockdale’s penalty stop two minutes later after an absurd penalty given when Damien Duff accidentally cleared a ball off his own arm was some justice, and Hangeland’s redemptive 89th-minute header provided a fair conclusion.

Overall, I was pleased with the result, but I think this match showed two things I have written about previously: 1) Fulham plays much classier football at home than people give credit for because of how negative they could posture themselves away from home under Hodgson; and 2) Manchester United is a quality team, but not a great one. Ferguson deserves immense credit for even having this side close to Chelsea last year; the gulf in paper quality between the two sides is fairly large.

Now we’ll see how Fulham handles a step down in class, having to rebound immediately with a Tuesday Carling Cup match at home to Port Vale and then a weekend trip to Blackpool for the Tangerines’ home opener.

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