Wayne Rooney ended his six-week injury lay-off with a goal as Manchester United moved five points clear of Liverpool at the top of the English Premier League with a 3-0 victory over Fulham at Old Trafford. The England striker, sidelined since straining a hamstring against Wigan on 14 January, scored from Korean winger Park Ji-Sung's cross moments after replacing Dimitar Berbatov to put the seal on United's latest victory.
Paul Scholes' opener and a strike from Berbatov had given United a 2-0 half-time lead against a Fulham side that rarely looked like adding to their three away league goals this season. But United were in determined mood and the victory left them in a commanding position at the top of the league, with their dreams of an unprecedented haul of five trophies in one season looking more realistic by the week.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had warned against complacency ahead of the game by admitting that "this fixture looks a bit too easy." But United's peerless form in recent weeks and Fulham's winless run away from home in the league this season suggested that the only likely outcome was a United win. And although Ferguson had warned his players that the unthinkable could happen, the prospects of such an unlikely outcome vanished once Scholes had spectacularly opened the scoring after just 12 minutes.
Scholes in vintage form
The former England midfielder has been overshadowed by fellow veteran Ryan Giggs recently, but the 34-year-old certainly reclaimed the spotlight with a jaw-dropping display against the London club. His goal, only his second in the league this season, was as good as any you are likely to see, even if it was given a helping hand into the net by Fulham's Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
As Michael Carrick stepped up to take a corner, Park's decoy run left Scholes unmarked 25 yards from goal and Carrick picked him out brilliantly, allowing the midfielder to unleash a right-foot volley. Schwarzer managed to get his body behind the shot, but he could not hold the ball and it squirmed out of his grasp before bouncing over the line and into the net.
Scholes has form for such eye-catching goals. Similar strikes over the years at Bradford City and Aston Villa have challenged for Goal of the Season awards, so this goal was no surprise. The fact that he is still producing such magic at his age is the amazing aspect.
But he is not just about goals and he proved that on the half hour when he created the second goal for Berbatov with another piece of brilliance. This time his deft chip into the penalty area in the 30th minute allowed John O'Shea to tee up the former Spurs striker, who scored from close range.
Berbatov was denied a second early in the second half when Schwarzer redeemed himself for his earlier mistake by repelling the United striker with a brilliant save to keep out a powerful snapshot. But the former Middlesbrough keeper could not continue to stem the tide and Rooney made it 3-0 in the 63rd minute - less than three minutes after climbing off the bench.
Park's shot across the face of goal was met by Rooney at the far post and, after springing the offside trap, the England star slotted in his seventh league goal of the season.