When Fulham came to the Lane last November they were 17th in the table and hadn’t won in their previous five matches.
After their spectacular 5-4 win, many Blades fans tagged them the best team we had played to that point, and could not understand why they were so low down. Some, including me, predicted that they might even go up. It’s a understatement to say they have improved since then, whilst United, if not yet out of gas, have been running on three cylinders for much of the time since that first meeting.
From what we saw on Tuesday night, Fulham might well be the equal of Wolves. Not even the current leaders moved the ball about the pitch so freely when we played them a month ago. Every time Fulham played the ball up to Aleksandar Mitrović it was right to his feet, he controlled it instantly and laid it off. This is a player who was rubbish at Newcastle but comfortable at Fulham.
Apart from the first 10 minutes and the five minutes before Fulham’s third goal, United were chasing shadows. But the comments I heard from Blades fans leaving Craven Cottage were realistic.
Perhaps this period of great progression in the last 22 months has come to an organic end? A squad amongst the very best League One could offer have developed into highly competent Championship players, but something more than competency is required to challenge the top clubs in the division.
But such things naturally wear off after a while. If United aren’t destined to become another Leeds, Ipswich, Norwich or QPR – capable of beating the best, but incredibly inconsistent – maybe a different approach to recruitment is needed. An inspirational manager can only wring so much out of a group of players competing at this level for the first time in many of their careers, however admirable their spirit and tenacity are.