MANCHESTER: Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was at a loss to explain away his “lethargic” side's shock 3-1 home loss to Fulham, a result that cost them a chance to head the Premiership.
The poor display keeps United a point behind arch-rivals Arsenal and they were pushed into third place by new table toppers Chelsea.
Undefeated at home since September 2002 – and unbeaten, home or away, against Fulham for 39 years – United were run ragged, falling behind after just three minutes.
“We made a terrible start, and Fulham fully deserved to win the match. There was just a lethargy about the team, and it could have been six – our goalkeeper was marvellous,” Ferguson said.
“We were unrecognisable really,” Ferguson said, adding that the strain of the much-hyped midweek “Battle of Britain” Champions League win at Rangers might have taken a toll.
“Perhaps the tension and emotion of Wednesday night played a part.”
He added: “These performances don't happen a lot, and we're very seldom as bad as that.”
In contrast young Fulham manager Chris Coleman was overjoyed after goals from Lee Clark, Steed Malbranque and Junichi Inamoto secured the win.
“Every one of my players was different class today, and I can't pick anyone out – they were all brilliant,” he said.
“They must be thinking they can go anywhere after a performance like that, because we deserved the result.
The Old Trafford fans were stunned after only three minutes as Lee Clark scored, and Fulham were unlucky to end a first half they dominated at 1-1 following Diego Forlan's injury-time equaliser.
But a brilliant performance from Steed Malbranque ran the show in the second half, the Frenchman firing Fulham's second in the 66th minute and providing the through-ball for Junichi Inamoto to wrap up a wonderful victory 11 minutes from time.
Fulham completely over-ran a United midfield in which Roy Keane was rested and Paul Scholes dropped to the bench following the win at Rangers.
Malbranque set up the opener when he caught Mikael Silvestre and John O'Shea sleeping down the right and crossed to give unmarked captain Clark the simplest of chances.
Fulham were entirely unswayed by the famous surroundings and continued to look the more likely to grab the game's second goal.
And yet Forlan grabbed an undeserved equaliser deep into first half stoppage time when he raced onto a Ryan Giggs through-ball and shot home to Edwin Van Der Sar's right.
United began the second period with much more purpose, but their defensive frailties were soon to resurface.
Fulham were back in front when Rio Ferdinand failed to clear Luis Boa Morte's left-wing cross and Quntin Fortune deflected the ball into the path of Malbranque, who drove home low past Tim Howard.
Ferguson put on Paul Scholes in a desperate bid to turn the tide but only succeeded in giving the rampant Londoners more space to exploit.
Again it was the sensational Malbranque who did the damage, knocking an inch-perfect through-ball in the 79th minute which Inamoto swept majestically over Howard to seal their wonderful win. – AFP