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Ferguson unhappy with casual United display

Dimitar Berbatov's contribution to whatever success Manchester United achieve this season will be writ large in the goals-scored column, but whether he will be given the opportunity to deliver when it truly matters remains a question only Sir Alex Ferguson can answer.

Berbatov took his tally to 21 goals this season by setting United on course for the victory against Fulham which enabled Ferguson's team to open a 10-point gap between themselves and Arsenal, who travel to Blackpool on Sunday.

With Wayne Rooney suspended, Berbatov will almost certainly start against Manchester City in next Saturday's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, yet do not expect him to dislodge United's troubled star from the team for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg against Chelsea.

His involvement in this game highlighted his present status as squad player rather than key man. Ferguson made eight changes from the team that won at Stamford Bridge last Tuesday -- it was a day when the shadow squad stepped out of the shade.

"You have to trust the squad," Ferguson said. "Anderson and Berbatov both needed games, Paul Scholes too, and John O'Shea needed a game badly. But it is not a risk to make these changes because, playing at home, we expect something from them.

"The first goal from Berba was a great goal and he took it very well. Nani had a great run to set up the second, but we should have scored another couple. I didn't think it was a job well done at all. The players were casual and lackadaisical. In the second half, we were wasteful in possession and could have suffered for that. But winning is the name of the game at this stage of the season and we have done that."

Berbatov may be a £30.75 million club-record signing, but he continues to struggle to claim a regular starting place in Ferguson's starting XI.

This was only his third start in 12 games and, had Rooney been available rather than beginning a two-match ban for swearing into a television camera at West Ham, Berbatov might have been on the bench once more.

It has been a mystifying fall from grace. Berbatov remains the Premier League's top scorer and his match-winning goal against Bolton last month was a crucial strike for United on a day when Arsenal dropped points at West Bromwich Albion.

If he is unhappy with his reduced involvement, though, he does not show it.

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He is letting his football do the talking and he proved a point with his goal here.

Although it came as early as the 12th minute, it was a turning point nonetheless. Fulham had started brightly, with Gael Kakuta, Moussa Dembele and Bobby Zamora all going close inside the opening 10 minutes.

An unfamiliar United starting XI could have wobbled had they suffered the blow of conceding early. But Berbatov's opener settled nerves and snuffed out Fulham's early confidence. The fact that the forward was offside when he received the ball from Nani might also alleviate the sense within Old Trafford that United have no luck when it comes to officials making tight calls.

Nani's dribble 30 yards out saw him play a one-two with Anderson before he threading the ball to Berbatov. The striker peeled away from his marker before guiding a right-footed shot past Mark Schwarzer.

Nani, overlooked for the shortlist for PFA Player of the Year, made another key contribution on 32 minutes when he teed up Valencia for the second goal.

With the exposed Brede Hangeland playing him onside, the Portuguese winger sprinted free down the left before racing past the stranded Schwarzer on the edge of the penalty area. Having rounded the Australian, Nani clipped the ball to Valencia at the far post, where the Ecuadorean headed in.

Valencia almost created a third for United two minutes into the second half following another dart past Carlos Salcido. Valencia's pass picked out Anderson, but the midfielder's shot was saved.

Having doubled their lead, United were barely troubled and Fulham manager Mark Hughes admitted the outcome was inevitable. "At 1-0, we made life difficult for ourselves and played into United's hands, but our record here is very poor and the scars of previous visits returned to haunt us," he said.


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