Garnacho and Manchester United ensure Premier League’s unique first act ends with a flourish

Dave Tickner

Absolutely nailed on, wasn’t it? There was absolutely no way the Barclays was going to take it lying down, simply not a chance that Our League would go quietly into the night and accept six weeks out of the limelight without something dramatic and stirring to send us all on our way into the World Cup Break.

Enter Alejandro Garnacho and Manchester United with an injury-time winner to break Fulham hearts and send United into the break in better spirits than would have been the case had last week’s defeat at Aston Villa been followed by a draw at Craven Cottage.

We mentioned this in relation to the Brighton-Villa game earlier, but it bears repeating for every game and especially one where the winner arrives so late: the effect on the mood at a club of this weekend’s result is of unusually heightened significance. United can now enjoy the World Cup looking up at the top four, two of which are firmly within striking range, rather than over the shoulder at a stalking Liverpool below them.

Meanwhile the opposite is true for Fulham. Having had a tremendously acceptable first half of the season, there is now inevitably a sense of frustration at ending this unique opening act of the season with a pair of injury-time defeats to the Manchester giants.

Like Brighton, though, that inevitable sense of annoyance and frustration must not be allowed to fester. There was a great deal to like about Fulham’s performance, whose equaliser in a dominant second-half display was thoroughly deserved and came in what always looked the likeliest route: an attack down the left involving Willian and Tom Cairney exposing Tyrell Malacia who had a difficult afternoon at right-back for United and never seemed to receive or adequate – or often any – protection from his team-mates. Long before the equaliser came for former United man Dan James within a minute or two of his introduction Fulham had served warning that this was their likeliest route back into the game.

Fulham v Man Utd - Alejandro Garnacho scores a goal

Obvious point is obvious, but the penetration that Fulham were enjoying made Aleksandar Mitrovic’s absence even more starkly felt than might have been the case. Carlos Vinicius is an honest trier, but Spurs fans saw enough of him during his loan spell a couple of seasons ago to be able to tip their Fulham-supporting mates that he represents a significant downgrade on the chaotic brilliance of the Serbian. It’s all ifs and buts, but it does seem very likely that this would have been a different kind of game with Mitrovic rather than the prosaic, pedestrian grafter that is Vinicius.

United spent most of the second half firmly on the back foot, though. First attempting to preserve the lead given them by Christian Eriksen’s first Premier League goal for the club and then seemingly hanging on for just a point after James’ equaliser.

But what you deserve and what you get aren’t always the same thing in the Premier League, and Fulham already know this better than most. One final moment of quality deep into injury time secured all three points as Garnacho simultaneously answered his critics or proved their criticisms had been taken on board. Take your pick on that one. Bruno Fernandes seemed pretty happy with it all in any case.

It was a lovely, lovely goal with which to bid farewell to Our League for the problematic weeks ahead. Garnacho rampaging clear down the left with the effervescent menace of youth but with the clarity to seek out a one-two with the wise old head of Eriksen, whose return pass gave Garnacho the best possible chance but still plenty to do as he burst beyond the flagging Fulham defenders to slide the ball past Bernd Leno and give United the best possible end to what at times has been a difficult opening stanza to the season.

See you all on Boxing Day.