LONDON: Paul Pogba produced a moment of magic as Manchester United came from behind to beat Fulham 2-1 and reclaim the Premier League lead on Wednesday, ending Manchester City’s short stay at the top. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in-form team started the match third in the table after 24 hours of chopping and changing at the summit. The win sent the Red Devils two points clear and equaled the club record of 17 Premier League away games without defeat set by the treble-winning side of 1999.
United were forced to dig deep after Ademola Lookman punished them for an untidy start before Edinson Cavani pulled them level with a poacher’s goal later in the first half. Pogba – back in the starting line-up in recent weeks after a spell on the periphery of Solskjaer’s team – put United in front with a stunning left-foot curling effort from outside the area in the second half. United have now won seven Premier League games after going behind this season.
United were punished in the fifth minute when Lookman sprang the offside trap, collecting a ball over the top from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The forward had time to pick his spot and gave Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea no chance, striking the ball into the bottom corner with his right foot. The away side settled and were level in the 21st minute through Cavani, moments after Bruno Fernandes had hit the inside of the post.
Fulham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola failed to hold a Fernandes cross from the left, spilling the ball into the path of the veteran Uruguayan, who made no mistake with a left-footed finish from close range. The increasingly influential Fernandes tested Areola from distance as United began to flex their muscles without creating many clear-cut chances. Fulham made a bright start to the second period as United again struggled to find openings.
But in the 65th minute Pogba broke the deadlock, creating space before producing an unstoppable drive past a diving Areola. The Frenchman said he had been “really mad” after failing to convert a late chance against Liverpool. “It was a beautiful goal and beautiful win,” he said. “It wasn’t my favorite goal ever but it was still beautiful.”
Meanwhile, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith launched a furious blast at the officials after Bernardo Silva’s controversial late goal inspired Manchester City’s 2-0 win on Wednesday. Pep Guardiola’s side found it hard work to pierce Villa’s stubborn defense at the rain-lashed Etihad Stadium. Silva finally made the breakthrough in the 79th minute with his first Premier League goal since July.
Smith was sent to the stands after a furious complaint that Rodri should have been given offside in the build-up to Silva’s goal. Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty ensured City made it nine successive wins in all competitions as they extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches. After the match, the Professional Game Match Officials organization issued a statement explaining that, by the letter of the law, Rodri had not gained an advantage because Villa’s Tyrone Mings played the ball first.
That didn’t placate Smith, who raged: “It was a farcical decision. I’ve not seen a goal like that given. It needs to be looked at. I don’t think anyone in this stadium thought it was a goal. Are we just going to leave players behind the line then? He was 10 yards offside and come back and tackled our player, it’s a pathetic law and a pathetic decision.”
Villa had only three days of training before facing City and put up a brave fight before fading at the end. City grabbed their controversial opener when Rodri, coming back from an offside position, nicked the ball off Mings and found Silva on the edge of the Villa area. Portugal playmaker Silva twisted into space before curling a fine finish into the top corner. In stoppage-time, Jesus had a header blocked by Cash’s hand and Gundogan stepped up to convert the spot-kick. – AFP