Robin van Persie leads Man United to win
Sir Alex Ferguson's brave decision to drop Wayne Rooney from his starting lineup paid off as new players Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa scored in Manchester United's come-from-behind victory over Fulham.
Rooney paid the price for a below-par performance in the defeat at Everton on Monday, and the performances of van Persie and Kagawa were such that Rooney cannot be guaranteed a quick return to the lineup.
Rooney won't be fit for next week after suffering a nasty gash in stoppage time after being trodden on by Hugo Rodallega -- an incident which left United to play out the game with 10 men.
The injury is likely to keep Rooney out for four weeks, Ferguson said.
Ferguson is more concerned about points, which were collected as the first-half response of van Persie, Kagawa and Rafael to Damien Duff's second-minute effort proved enough despite a Nemanja Vidic own goal.
Rumors swept Old Trafford that Rooney had been benched long before official confirmation was received an hour before kickoff.
Fulham manager Martin Jol admitted he was surprised at Rooney's absence from United's starting lineup.
"I was surprised," he said. "I thought van Persie and Rooney would play. I know Kagawa from my time in Germany and I knew he would not play on the left. I thought it might have been an advantage because my players did not know him. He is a quality player. But Rooney is a fantastic player as well."
It is not the first time Rooney has suffered such a fate.
On New Year's Eve last season, Ferguson omitted the 26-year-old for disciplinary reasons against Blackburn -- a decision that proved very costly as the Red Devils suffered a home defeat against a team that went on to get relegated.
Yet there was never any suggestion Rooney would be left out for the long term.
However, as he made his way to the home dressing room after witnessing a powerful first-half display from the hosts, in which Ferguson's two big summer signings both opened their United accounts, Rooney must have had a worry or two.
For in addition to their goals, van Persie and Kagawa in particular caught the eye with how easily they fitted into the system.
Certainly Ferguson was happy at the way van Persie and Kagawa combined in a thrilling first-half display.
"It was fine," he said of his forwards' first-half display. "Obviously it is early doors and there will be a better understanding as time goes on."
Kagawa excelled in the hole behind the main striker. His movement, speed and passing kept Fulham on the back foot. And this, shrewd judges from Japan insist, is his best position.
So to where in that, would Rooney fit?
It seems Ferguson is intent on operating with someone occupying a deeper role behind van Persie, suggesting Rooney will not be able to take his first-team place for granted.
It gave a different view to Ferguson's program notes, in which he said that anyone who had "fallen out of love" with the club he would "invariably help them on their way out."
That is not to say such a fate awaits Rooney.
However, it is worth noting Jaap Stam featured in United's first game of the 2001-02 season, against Fulham of all teams, and was promptly shown the door.
Not that Ferguson's brave move had a particularly impressive start as Bryan Ruiz rolled a free-kick into Duff's path which the Irishman turned home before guest of honor Usain Bolt had even taken his seat.
Coming so soon after that loss at Everton, it was a major test of character that United came through with flying colors.
Van Persie leveled with the clinical efficiency you would expect of a Golden Boot winner.
From that point on it was a case of when, rather than if, the hosts would gain the initiative.
As Kagawa prompted and cajoled, Young and Antonio Valencia both went close.
But when van Persie's corner was half-cleared to Tom Cleverley, Schwarzer could only turn the midfielder's shot into the path of Kagawa, who -- profiting from Sascha Riether's failure to get out of the six-yard box quickly -- swept home from close range.
Restored to the starting lineup following his Olympic campaign with Brazil, Rafael provided additional defensive security.
He also had a goal correctly ruled out for offside before nodding home Young's chip to the far post just before the break.
Yet, for all United's attacking endeavours, there remain serious flaws at the back amid a massive injury list.
Once again pressed into service as an emergency center half, Michael Carrick came far too close to turning the ball into his own net for comfort.
"The first-half performance was fantastic," said Ferguson. "It could have been five, six, anything. But we made a terrible mistake for the second goal and it becomes a match. Before that it had never been a match."
De Gea redeemed himself with two brilliant saves to deny the excellent Moussa Dembele as Rooney was introduced for Kagawa.
And then, on Fulham's last attack, De Gea denied Ruiz, who had been set up by Dembele.
Information from Press Association was used in this report.