Wayne Rooney sent Manchester United three points clear in the Premier League on Monday, scoring a first-half goal in a 1-0 victory over Fulham to earn the reigning champions their sixth straight league win.
The England striker ensured United capitalized on title rival Manchester City's 1-1 draw at Stoke on Saturday by stroking home a close-range winner high into the net in the 42nd minute at Old Trafford.
With only eight games left in the campaign and with what appears an easier run-in than City, United is now the favourite to extend its record haul of English titles to 20 at the expense of one of its fiercest rivals.
Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer produced wonderful saves to deny wingers Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia in the second half but there were some nervous moments in the final 10 minutes for United, which could have conceded a late penalty when Michael Carrick appeared to bundle over Danny Murphy in the area.
Rooney has found his scoring form just at the right time for United, his goal taking his tally in the last nine games in all competitions to 11.
He is now just five goals behind Arsenal striker Robin van Persie in the Premier League's goalscoring charts and the same amount away from equaling his record league haul in one season.
The goal was avoidable from Fulham's point of view, with left back John Arne Riise failing to clear a cross from the left by the recalled Young.
United defender Jonny Evans, who had come upfield for a corner, stabbed the ball back across goal for Rooney to stroke into the net from the edge of the six-yard box.
Save for a couple of shots from distance by top scorer Clint Dempsey, 13th-place Fulham — which came into the game with the joint-worst away record in the league — had been on the back foot up to that point although United hadn't created any genuine chances.
The second half was even more one-sided, with Valencia drawing a point-blank save in the 47th from Schwarzer, who then also saved well from Young's curling shot.
With goal difference potentially a factor in the run-in, United poured forward in a bid to trim City's three-goal advantage, bringing on Mexico striker Javier Hernandez in the 63rd minute.
Ryan Giggs dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box, before Schwarzer produced a stunning double save to twice deny the lively Young.
Fulham had its moments toward the end of the match, Dempsey just failing to get a touch to Murphy's floated through-ball with only United goalkeeper David De Gea to beat.
With the home side becoming increasingly nervous and lax in possession, Murphy had a good penalty shout turned down by referee Michael Oliver after collapsing under pressure from the retreating Carrick.
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