United reclaim top spot


MANCHESTER, March 15 – Wayne Rooney's double and a late strike from Dimitar Berbatov sent Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League with a 3-0 win over Fulham on Sunday.Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had surrendered first place to Chelsea for 24 hours but the champions are now two points ahead of the Blues, who have a game in hand, and third placed Arsenal.

Rooney made the breakthrough in the first minute of the second half at Old Trafford to set United on their way.

With six minutes remaining, the England forward added a second to take his tally to 32 for the season before Berbatov added a late third.

It was enough to give United a third straight Premier League win and continue the momentum from their midweek demolition of AC Milan in the Champions League.

Fulham had just two days to prepare for their trip to Old Trafford after their 3-1 Europa League defeat to Juventus on Thursday but they started the match brightly.

Clint Dempsey, making his first Premier League start since suffering a knee injury two months ago, tested Edwin van der Sar with a low shot from distance.

Fulham’s Simon Davies took advantage of Gary Neville dwelling on the ball and fed Dempsey, whose powerful long-range shot flew just over the bar.

Berbatov was impressing with his build-up play but when he was picked out by Nani’s cross, he failed to direct his header on target.

Rooney forced a fine one-handed save from Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer as the pressure continued and Michael Carrick also dragged wide.

Fulham were being forced deeper and deeper but had a decent opening when Danny Murphy lifted the ball over the United defence only for Bobby Zamora’s volley to fly over.

But just 30 seconds after the restart, Rooney prodded United in front thanks to some dreadful Fulham defending.

Rooney laid the ball wide to the left to Nani, whose cross beat four Fulham defenders for Rooney to slide into the corner of the net.

United continued to press in search of a second goal and Nani scooped well over from just outside the area.

Rio Ferdinand, playing his third straight match after recovering from a back twinge, also went close with a volley from Antonio Valencia’s corner.

More fine work from Valencia down the right saw the Ecuador winger cross for Berbatov, whose volley dropped wide of goal.

As Rooney searched for another goal, he glanced a header wide from a cross from Nani.

United nearly paid for their failure to kill Fulham off when Zamora was played through by Erik Nevland’s flick only to be denied by a fine block from Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic.

But Nani threatened with a free kick that was just too high to trouble Schwarzer.

South Korean substitute Park Ji-Sung was picked out by Berbatov and laid on another chance with a fine cross that was again headed wide by the Bulgarian striker.

Darren Fletcher almost made the game safe when he burst through and hit a shot that looked bound for the top corner before Schwarzer pushed it wide.

But Rooney made no mistake from close range when he was found by Berbatov’s cross with six minutes remaining.

And Berbatov finally got on the score-sheet with his tenth league goal of the season from Park’s cross to the near post in the 89th minute.