Jol cries foul after United open up gap

Rooney’s strike puts the champions back in front of rivals Man City but Fulham are left to rue penalty controversy

MANCHESTER UTD 1 vs FULHAM 0

FULHAM manager Martin Jol accused referee Michael Oliver of ducking a late penalty decision last night after Manchester United edged out the west Londoners to climb three points clear in the Premier League.

Striker Wayne Rooney’s 29th goal of the season just before half-time returned the champions to the summit, but they might have been pegged back had Michael Carrick been punished in the dying moments.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted his midfielder had caught Fulham’s Danny Murphy, while a pragmatic Jol conceded he was not surprised that the visitors’ frantic appeals were ignored.

“I feel it was a difficult decision, but it always is with a penalty. I think if he had given the penalty he would have had to send Michael Carrick off,” said the Dutchman.

“I think everyone in the stadium expected a penalty to be honest. This is not the first time, especially not for me. You have to be brave to give a penalty away at Man United and that is the only disappointment we’ve got.”

Ferguson conceded there had been contact but insisted United could have had a penalty of their own and that their overall dominance against a resolute Fulham side had merited some good fortune.

“I think they had a claim, no doubt,” he said. “We had a claim for a penalty in the first half when there was a clear handball. Patrice Evra thought it was stonewall. Maybe the ref was thinking about that. Certainly Michael Carrick has caught Danny Murphy’s heel.”

Victory propelled United back in front of neighbours and title rivals Manchester City with eight games remaining, including a meeting between the two teams on 30 April that looks increasingly pivotal.

Despite a third consecutive defeat, Fulham remain 13th and an eight-point cushion away from what appears to be a five-way relegation battle, with Jol predicting four more points will be enough for safety.

It was far from the drubbing some anticipated, with the Cottagers much more robust than when United humbled them 5-0 in December, and the home side decidedly lacklustre.

But as then, Rooney struck, this time in the 42nd minute and opportunistically from close range, after defender Jonny Evans had retrieved an Ashley Young cross from the left that eluded Fulham’s defence and cut the ball back.