United look to end Craven Cottage curse

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Craven Cottage has become something of a bogey ground for Manchester United on the last couple of occasions.

Once occupied as a hunting ground for former Queen of England Anne Boleyn, it seems to have resurrected its use when the red prey of Manchester make their way down south.

The Red Devils travel to west London this weekend with intensions of banishing the Curse of Craven Cottage, which has emulated Southampton’s ‘The Dell’ in the mid 90’s for United.

Manchester United’s last victory at The Cottage in the Premier League seems like a lifetime ago, a 3-0 victory with a subs bench that boasted the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and the one that got away Gerard Piqué.

An FA Cup win in March 2009, which included a wonderful display from Carlos Tevez capped off by a run from midfield and strike which was arguably the best goal of his career, is one of the few glory moments at Mr Al Fayed's club.

Fourteen days later was a different story as United found themselves humiliated 2-0 on the same ground in the Premier League.

That particular defeat to Fulham was a day to forget for United fans as the team finished the game down to just nine men on the field, with Paul Scholes’ the first to be dismissed after palming the ball off the line from a Bobby Zamora header after just 17 minutes.

Up steps United’s thorn in the side, former Merseysider Danny Murphy, to slot home from the penalty spot. Wayne Rooney saw red after a second bookable offence when 'returning the ball' to referee Philip Dowd rapidly.

Interpreted as aggression, the decision left a frustrated United side two men and two goals down by the 87th minute.

The last encounter between the two teams at Craven Cottage was during Manchester United’s defensive crisis, when up to eight defenders found themselves on the injured list leaving midfielders Michael Carrick & Darren Fletcher to deputise in defence alongside the inexperienced Ritchie De Laet.

The makeshift defence saw off showdowns with Wolfsburg and Wolves, but it was only a matter of time before the side were snuffed out. A 3-0 humiliation ensued after an impressive Fulham kept United on the back foot for the 90 minutes, with goals from Murphy, Zamora and Damien Duff.

I think it’s fair to say Fulham have been lucky to catch United at low points during their recent trips to Craven Cottage.

Not to take anything away from impressive performances and deserved victories over United, but a bitter rival trashing hangover and possibly the worst defensive crisis in United’s history were influential factors in United’s recent disasters at Craven Cottage.

After a positive start to last season’s league campaign opening against Birmingham, United travelled to Turf Moor and suffered a 1-0 loss at the hands of newly promoted Burnley.

The players know all too well at this point that away to Fulham is not going to be an easy test and their should be no room for complacency after the ease at which Newcastle were brushed aside last Monday night.

But since we last clashed at west London a few things have changed. The influential Roy Hodgson has moved to Merseyside only to be replaced by former United legend Mark Hughes. I’m sure United fans will take great pleasure in the fact that ‘sparky’ is no longer sporting the blue of Manchester, and he will undoubtedly get a positive reception from the United faithful.

A question mark still remains over Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer after being left out of the side that travelled to the Reebok Stadium and earned a hard fought point after a goalless draw against stubborn Bolton. The final 30 minutes in that match showed us a visibly frustrated Fulham side notorious for their impressive discipline record pick up three yellow cards.

As for United, the medical staff have managed to wrangle the defensive injuries down to just two in the form of Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville.

Paul Scholes is playing out of his skin lately, Dimitar Berbatov has done nothing but impress in his last two games and Wayne Rooney will be itching to register his name on the score sheet.

The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.

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