An injury-time goal from Fulham’s Darren Bent inflicted more pain on champions Manchester United, as the bottom club rescued a 2-2 Premier League draw on Sunday to give critics of Red Devils manager David Moyes more ammunition.
It was a further blow to United’s hopes of securing a Champions League berth next season and left them nine points behind fourth-placed Liverpool on at No. 7 on 41 points, six adrift of Tottenham Hotspur, who beat Everton 1-0 with a goal from Emmanuel Adebayor.
Late strikes from Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick helped United cancel out Steve Sidwell’s opener and evoked some of the never-say-die attitude that characterized former manager Alex Ferguson’s long spell at the club.
However, the uncertainty that has plagued the new regime came back to bite United as Fulham substitute Bent headed in at the far post to nick a point in the 94th minute.
“Today was as bad as it gets,” a stunned Moyes told Sky Sports. “We dominated the game. Being one down was bad enough. The amount of attempts, chances and play we had was unbelievable — how we didn’t win, I have no idea.
It was a superb return to Old Trafford for former United assistant coach Rene Meulensteen as his Fulham side showed buckets of resolve to defend stoutly in the face of constant pressure.
The Cottagers set out their stall to defend deep, with two banks of four lined up in front of the goal and no recognized striker.
Their lack of ambition was typical of a team lacking confidence and hoping for a stroke of luck, resembling how a lower-league side would approach a cup tie at Old Trafford.
Yet against a United also lacking belief, Fulham stifled the home team’s pedestrian approach and caught them napping on the break.
Comically bad defending allowed Sidwell to stride unmarked into the area to latch on to a lofted pass from Lewis Holtby and sidefoot the ball home, silencing a boisterous Old Trafford crowd after 19 minutes.
United’s vulnerability was laid bare eight minutes before the break when former wide player Kieran Richardson was sent through on goal by Muamer Tankovic and blasted his finish over the bar.
The home side hammered at the door after the restartm but had to wait until the 78th minute to draw level as Van Persie was left unmarked at the far post to tap in a cross shot from Juan Mata.
United went ahead two minutes later as Carrick’s deflected effort from outside the area flew into the corner, but, summing up their season, there was a sting in the tale.
Fulham burst forward and Richardson hit a firm rising shot that goalkeeper David De Gea could only push into the path of Bent, who nodded the ball in.
At White Hart Lane, a stunning finish from revitalized striker Adebayor helped fifth-placed Tottenham sink Everton to move two points above the Goodison Park team.
Tottenham were second-best for most of the match as Everton dominated possession, but the Toffees were left to rue their lack of a cutting edge when Adebayor fired into the bottom corner midway through the second. It was the Togo striker’s sixth goal in eight league matches.
Adebayor, who has been reinvigorated since Tim Sherwood took over as manager from Andre Villas-Boas in December last year, looked isolated in attack as Tottenham labored to create chances. So it was typical that his goal came from a moment of individual brilliance.