To paraphrase Winston Churchill, success is not final, failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.
That, in a nutshell, sums up events at Old Trafford for while United weren’t by any means spectacular, they simply wanted today’s game more than Fulham did.
That’s not to say that the Old Trafford crowd was treated to a vintage cup performance, but on a day were famous upsets were as common as a Nani’s misplaced pass that would have been too much to ask.
United got the job done in professional, if not exhilarating, fashion, reaching the fifth round of the competition for only the second time in four years, but the game isn’t likely to carve its own chapter in the history books.
Unless, that is, you have a fetish for drab affairs that spark into life for five minutes before slumbering into numbness again.
Rotation policy is as common as half empty stadiums in the FA Cup these days ( no doubt City felt at home at the Britannia today) so it came as no surprise to see Jones and Smalling replacing Vidic and Ferdinand in the middle of the back four, with Nani, Carrick, Giggs and Anderson in midfield supporting Rooney and Hernandez up front.
Dimitar Berbatov didn’t even have the time to reacquaint himself with the once familiar Old Trafford turf that United were already in front.
Chris Smalling looked set to head home but Aaron Hughes’ arm reached the ball before the United defender, conceding a penalty with as little as 72 seconds gone.
Following his miss against West Ham, Wayne Rooney was replaced as penalty taker by Ryan Giggs who made no mistake from the spot, putting United in front.
With 19 minutes played, Mark Clattenburg ruled against awarding United a second penalty when Damien Duff’s arm took the ball away from Patrice Evra.
Nani’s effort aside, one of the rare moments when then Portuguese shrugged off his petulance to look productive, United’s best chance in the first half came with 30 minutes gone as Giggs seized on Anderson through ball before squaring the ball back to Rooney who was denied by a brilliant save by Schwarzer at the near post.
Fulham had a penalty appeal of their own turned down just before half-time as Steve Sidwell had his shirt pulled in the box, but Mark Clattenburg clearly had had enough of the snooze fest unfolding on the pitch and fled down the tunnel, ignoring the West Londoners’ protests.
Whatever was said in the dressing room clearly woke United up, for they netted twice within seven minutes in the second half.
First Rooney controlled Anderson’s through ball, before wrong-footing Hughes and unleashing an unstoppable effort past Schwarzer.
Then, three minutes later, Rooney turned provider, feeding Hernandez who clinically dispatched the ball past the Fulham keeper to seal United’s progression to the fifth round.
With an hour played, Scholes replaced Carrick, followed by the introduction of Kagawa and Valencia for Anderson and Giggs with the game edging closer to the final whistle.
The Welshman, voted man of the match, offered his last contribution with 66 minutes on the clock, as his through ball allowed Hernandez to turn inside Hughes. The Mexican’s shot was deflected by the Fulham defender past Mark Schwarzer as United wrapped up their win.
Hughes’ horrible afternoon got slightly better as he headed home Karagounis’ corner ten minutes later, but it was not enough to justify the long trip up north for the Cottagers’ fans.
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