United see chance to worry leaders

 

Manchester United head to Fulham tonight knowing that a win would put them right back in the title race just two points behind third-placed Arsenal, three behind Everton and seven behind leaders Chelsea.

Four wins on the trot leave the leading trio facing the uncomfortable prospect of having United looming behind them as the Premiership campaign passes the halfway stage.

To exert maximum pressure, Phil Neville knows United must maintain their triumphant streak."Over the last three or four years, Craven Cottage has been a really difficult place to go and Fulham are capable of beating anyone on their day," he said.

"We know we will have to be at our best, because what we cannot afford to do is miss the opportunity of capitalising on yesterday's draw at Highbury."

With a visit of relegation-haunted Crystal Palace to come next weekend ahead of the packed festive programme, United see another chance to make up the ground they lost during the early weeks of the campaign when their scoring touch deserted them.

The return to form of Paul Scholes has coincided with the improved recent run and with 11 goals scored and just one conceded in their current winning run, United are getting back into a more familiar routine.

Even during the difficult opening weeks, Neville always felt it was only a matter of time before Manchester United sorted themselves out and with confidence building, few would wager against them ending the season with some sort of silverware.

"There has been a change in mood," he said. "We are winning games, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, and that breeds confidence.

"Our defensive record has been good throughout the season, but now we are scoring two or three goals a game as well, which is championship form.

"We're playing like a team with a lot of confidence at the moment. We look like we are going to score. We have been turning our chances into goals."

Neville is hoping to be involved at Fulham, possibly on the bench after Wes Brown was ruled out of the trip with an Achilles problem.

Meanwhile, the London side's enforcer Papa Bouba Diop insists that he had no fears about playing in the Premiership.

Bouba Diop was signed from Lens in July to add steel to Chris Coleman's side and has impressed with several powerful performances in the midfield holding position.

He said: "The Premiership is one of the best leagues in Europe, if not the world, and is very hard to play in. Competition is intense and the game is very physical but the physical aspect has never bothered me - I enjoy that type of match. The fact I can match other players in strength is my trump card."

Fulham supporters will remember Diop's stunning strike against Chelsea four weeks ago -his only goal for the club to date - but football fans outside SW6 will recall his goalscoring exploits in a different match.

Diop pounced in the first half as Senegal defeated France 1-0 in the opening match of World Cup 2002, helping the holders to a humiliating early exit.