Wayne Rooney’s 21st goal of the English Premier League soccer season lifted Manchester United three points clear of Manchester City atop the standings.
Rooney converted Jonny Evans’s cut back in the 42nd minute at Old Trafford last night as United beat Fulham 1-0 to make it nine wins and a draw in 10 league games. Ashley Young had chances to increase United’s lead before the visiting team was denied a penalty kick when Michael Carrick tripped Danny Murphy.
“Fulham put in a massive effort,” United manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports. “We did enough to finish the game off but didn’t do it and nearly paid the penalty.”
United, which began the match behind its cross-town rival on goal difference at the top of the standings, has claimed 28 points from a possible 30 since losing back-to-back games at the turn of the year. The Red Devils have 73 points with eight games remaining as they seek a record-extending 20th English title.
City, which was held 1-1 at Stoke City three days ago, is scheduled to host United on April 30 in the third-to-last round of games. United next travels to Blackburn on April 2, two days after City hosts Sunderland.
Rooney smashed the ball into the net from close range last night when Evans laid it back into his path after Fulham failed to clear Young’s cross. United has scored at least once in its past 45 home games, one match shy of the Premier League record set by Arsenal from 2001-03.
Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved Antonio Valencia’s shot after halftime and then tipped Young’s curling effort around the post. Schwarzer blocked two successive shots from Young and Ryan Giggs followed up with a goal-bound strike that was blocked by Brede Hangeland.
Fulham had appeals for a penalty waved away in the 89th minute when referee Michael Oliver ruled that Carrick hadn’t tripped Murphy over as they chased the ball into the area.
“It was a difficult decision,” Fulham manager Martin Jol told Sky Sports. “If he had given the penalty he would have had to send Michael Carrick off. Everyone in the stadium expected a penalty, to be honest.”
While Ferguson said there was “no doubt” Fulham had a claim for a penalty, the United manager added that the home team should have been awarded a spot kick in the first half when Stephen Kelly blocked Patrice Evra’s cross with his arm.
“Maybe the referee was thinking about that,” Ferguson said. “Certainly Carrick caught Murphy’s heel as he’s come back. But we deserved that because we completely dominated the game until the last 15 minutes.”
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