United thwarted by last-gasp Bent goal for Fulham
LONDON - An injury-time goal from Fulham's Darren Bent inflicted more pain on champions Manchester United as the bottom club rescued a 2-2 Premier League draw on Sunday, adding fuel to the fire for manager David Moyes's critics.
It was a further blow to United's hopes of securing Champions League football next season and left them nine points behind Liverpool in fourth spot and six adrift of Tottenham Hotspur who beat Everton 1-0 with a goal from Emmanuel Adebayor.
Late strikes from Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick helped United cancel out Steve Sidwell's opener and evoked some of the never-say-die attitude that characterised former manager Alex Ferguson's long spell at the club.
However, the uncertainty that has plagued the new regime came back to bite them as Fulham substitute Bent headed in at the far post to nick a point in the 94th minute.
"Today was as bad as it gets," a shell-shocked Moyes told Sky Sports television.
"We dominated the game. Being one down was bad enough. The amount of attempts, chances and play we had was unbelievable. How we didn't win I have no idea.
"It's goals that count. You can have as much possession as you like. We should have scored more. You've got to try and keep making it work," said Moyes who took over from Ferguson in the close season.
It was a superb return to United, who stayed seventh on 41 points, for former assistant coach Rene Meulensteen as his Fulham side showed buckets of resolve to defend stoutly in the face of constant pressure.
Fulham set out their stall to defend deep, with two banks of four lined up in front of the goal with no recognised striker.
Their lack of ambition was typical for a team shorn of confidence and hoping for a stroke of luck, much like a lower league side would approach a cup tie at Old Trafford.
Against a United side also lacking belief, Fulham stifled the home team's pedestrian approach play and caught them napping on the break.
Comically bad defending allowed Sidwell to stride unmarked into the area to latch on to a lofted pass from Lewis Holtby and sidefoot the ball home, stunning a boisterous Old Trafford into silence after 19 minutes.
United's vulnerability was laid bare eight minutes before the break when their former wide player Kieran Richardson was sent through on goal by Muamer Tankovic and he blasted his finish over the bar.
The home side hammered at the door after the restart but had to wait until the 78th minute to draw level as Van Persie was left unmarked at the far post to tap in a cross shot from Juan Mata.
With the home crowd in full voice, United went ahead two minutes later as Carrick's deflected effort from outside the area flew into the corner, but summing up their season there was a sting in the tale.
Fulham burst forward and Richardson hit a firm rising shot that keeper David De Gea could only push into the path of Bent who nodded the ball in from close range.
At White Hart Lane, a stunning finish from revitalised striker Adebayor helped fifth-placed Tottenham sink Everton to move two points above the Goodison Park team.
Tottenham were second best for most of the match as Everton confidently dominated possession but they were left to rue their lack of a cutting edge when Adebayor fired powerfully into the bottom corner midway through the second half.
It was the Togo striker's sixth goal in his last eight league matches.
Adebayor, who has been re-invigorated since Tim Sherwood took over as manager from Andre Villas-Boas in December, had looked isolated in attack as Tottenham laboured to create chances.
It was typical, therefore, that his goal should come from a moment of individual brilliance.
Adebayor controlled a long free kick forward from Kyle Walker on his chest, used his upper-body strength to hold off two defenders and drilled in a left-foot shot. It was Tottenham's first effort on target.
Everton continued to press but when referee Mark Clattenburg waved away a penalty appeal for an Etienne Capoue challenge on Seamus Coleman in stoppage time, they were condemned to their second defeat in their last three games.
"I am very happy for the team and winning the game was important for confidence," said Adebayor. "We kept calm, we knew we had the quality to make a breakthrough and we did it in the end.
"We want to be winning games 3-0 but we want the fans to be patient. It's not all going our way at the moment." (Editing by Tony Jimenez)