Football Features

“In Man Utd’s genes” – The Fulham side who withstood 81(!) crosses in 2014

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:30, 22 September 2021

David Moyes received a lot of stick for his spell as Manchester United manager and though there were a handful of lows, one is remembered more than most.

In February 2014, Man Utd welcomed Fulham to Old Trafford with the Cottagers bottom of the table and fighting the drop. Man Utd had won their past two home games going into the meeting against Fulham and were trying to get closer to the top four, sitting seventh prior to kick-off.

Things did not start well for Man Utd as Steve Sidwell gave Fulham the lead, but Moyes‘ side looked set for the win thanks to late goals from Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick. However, an injury-time effort from Darren Bent stole a point for the visitors and added to Moyes‘ growing problems.

The result on its own was deemed to be bad enough but the lasting memory of the match was Man Utd‘s efforts to break down Fulham’s defence, attempting 81 crosses – the most in the Premier League since 2006. Moyes went on to defend his side’s display, insisting that playing with width was “in United’s genes”.

The Scotsman was ultimately sacked just two months later and he has since hit out at the impatience of the board when making their decision to wield the axe. Moyes — now manager of West Ham — suggested in July 2020 that the only difference between his stint and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s has been “time”.

“Ole had a difficult start. I think the difference between Ole and me is Ole has been given time. But I have to say he’s doing a really good job,” Moyes reflected.

Fulham meanwhile suffered an equally perilous fate to Moyes that season as they were eventually relegated. But where are the team that withstood the bombardment of crosses at Old Trafford now?

Goalkeeper: Maarten Stekelenburg

Age: 39
Fulham appearances: 21
Current club: Ajax

Stekelenburg’s Fulham career didn’t last too much longer after the Old Trafford meeting, with his final appearance for the club coming in early March of 2014. The Dutch shot-stopper was sent on loan to Monaco for the 2014/15 season and another temporary spell to Southampton followed the year after.

In 2016 Stekelenburg was sold to Everton, where he played second-fiddle to Jordan Pickford, but he is now back in familiar territory at Ajax. Owing to Andre Onana’s doping ban, Stekelenburg is actually Erik ten Hag’s first-choice goalkeeper as things stand in Amsterdam.

Right-back: Sascha Riether

Age: 38
Fulham appearances: 72
Current club: Retired

Having spent the 2012/13 season on loan at Fulham, Riether’s move was made permanent for the 2013/14 campaign and he was the regular right-back. However, after Fulham’s relegation, Riether was allowed to leave for Freiburg, with whom he had started his professional career.

Riether spent just one season with Freiburg before joined Schalke in 2015 and after four years, the right-back retired.

Centre-back: Johnny Heitinga

Age: 37
Fulham appearances: 14
Current club: Retired

Heitinga’s time at Fulham was brief, spending the second half of the 2013/14 campaign at Craven Cottage, although he played in every Premier League game following his debut. In the summer of 2014, Heitinga moved to Hertha Berlin but spent just one year in the German capital. The Dutchman returned to Ajax for the first half of the 2015/16 season before retiring.

Centre-back: Dan Burn

Age: 29
Fulham appearances: 69
Current club: Brighton & Hove Albion

Burn spent the first half of the 2013/14 season on loan at Birmingham City but was thrown into the Fulham defence upon his return. He remained at Fulham after their relegation but spent a lot of time on the bench with the Cottagers struggling in the second-tier.

In 2016 Burn left Fulham for Wigan, where he reinvented himself and is now back in the Premier League with Brighton, playing largely at left-back.

Left-back: John Arne Riise

Age: 40
Fulham appearances: 101
Current club: Retired

The 2013/14 campaign was Riise’s last at Fulham and in England, having spent three years at the Cottagers, leaving for APOEL in the summer of 2014.

After the move, Riise did not stay too long at a single club, also having spells at Delhi Dynamos, Aalesund and Chennaiyin before finally calling time on his career in 2018.

Right-midfielder: Ryan Tunnicliffe

Age: 28
Fulham appearances: 66
Current club: Portsmouth

Tunnicliffe joined Fulham from Man Utd at the end of January, making his Cottagers debut at Old Trafford. But just a few weeks later, after Rene Meulensteen was sacked, Tunnicliffe was loaned out to Wigan for the remainder of the 2013/14 campaign.

Another loan at Blackburn followed before Tunnicliffe had his chance in the Fulham first-team. He was eventually sold to Millwall in 2017 and spent two years with the club before signing for Luton and recently joining Portsmouth in League One.

Central midfielder: Steve Sidwell

Age: 38
Fulham appearances: 114
Current club: Retired

Like many others in this starting XI, Sidwell – who opened the scoring at Old Trafford – left Fulham following their relegation, staying in the Premier League with Stoke City although he found appearances hard to come by. In 2016, Sidwell moved to Brighton and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League, although he did not feature in the top-flight due to injury issues.

Sidwell eventually retired in 2018, but continues to work at Brighton as an ambassador and youth development coach.

Central midfielder: William Kvist

Age: 36
Fulham appearances: 8
Current club: Retired

Kvist’s stay at Fulham was only temporary, joining on loan in January from Stuttgart and making just eight appearances. The midfielder would return to England later in the year, however, signing for Wigan on a free transfer.

Kvist spent just one year with Wigan before returning to boyhood club FC Copenhagen, where he played for four more years until retiring in 2019.

Left-midfielder: Kieran Richardson

Age: 36
Fulham appearances: 48
Current club: Retired

Having spent two years with Fulham, joining from Sunderland in 2012, Richardson left the Cottagers after their relegation at the end of the 2013/14 campaign. He joined Aston Villa, where he was shifted to left-back for a large part of his stint.

Richardson left Villa in 2016 and, after a brief spell at Cardiff, retired at the end of the year.

Attacking midfielder: Lewis Holtby

Age: 31
Fulham appearances: 13
Current club: Holstein Kiel

Holtby was another loanee taking the field at Old Trafford for Fulham, joining from Tottenham in January 2014. After returning to Spurs, Holtby was sent on another loan spell to Hamburg before joining the club permanently in 2015.

The German midfielder spent four years in Hamburg and enjoyed a fairly successful time, but was released in 2019. Joining Blackburn in September that year, Holtby looked promising at Ewood Park and showcased flashes of quality but he is now back in Germany with Holstein Kiel.

Striker: Muamer Tankovic

Age: 26
Fulham appearances: 6
Current club: AEK Athens

A graduate of Fulham’s academy, Tankovic was handed the monumental task of leading the line at Old Trafford – his only Premier League start, which ended at half-time due to injury. Tankovic was allowed to leave Fulham for AZ Alkmaar on a free transfer and spent three years with the Dutch club.

In 2017, Tankovic upped sticks to Sweden with Hammarby, moving slightly back into midfield, before venturing abroad once more with AEK Athens last year.

Substitutes

Darren Bent

Age: 37
Fulham appearances: 30
Current club: Retired

An equaliser off the bench represented Bent’s third and final goal of the 2013/14 Premier League campaign having joined Fulham on loan from Villa.

Bent spent another two loan spells at Brighton and Derby the following season, eventually signing for the latter permanently. He provided an experienced head in the Championship as Derby fought for promotion to the Premier League, eventually retiring in 2018 – but not before another loan spell at Burton Albion.

Scott Parker

Age: 40
Fulham appearances: 128
Current club: Retired

The 2013/14 campaign was Parker’s first at Fulham, and the English midfielder would develop a tie with the Cottagers over his four years before retirement. Parker made 128 appearances in total and was named captain, eventually returning as a coach in 2018 before taking on a role as manager. He guided the west Londoners to the Premier League but was unable to consolidate their status as a top-flight club last season and they ultimately dropped down once again. He has since moved to the Bournemouth dugout and currently has the Cherries atop the Championship table.

Larnell Cole

Age: 28
Fulham appearances: 1
Current club: Radcliffe Borough

Like Tunnicliffe, Cole joined Fulham from Man Utd in January 2014, and was a late substitute at Old Trafford – his only appearance for the Cottagers. Cole was loaned to MK Dons following Meulensteen’s departure and spent further temporary spells at Shrewsbury Town and Inverness before leaving Fulham in 2017.

The Englishman went on to represent Tranmere Rovers for two years and joined FC United of Manchester in February 2020 before signing for Radcliffe Borough.

In case you’re wondering, these were the Man Utd players who collectively launched the aerial bombardment:

Man Utd team

De Gea
Rafael (Valencia)
Evra
Carrick
Smalling
Vidic
Mata
Fletcher (Januzaj)
Van Persie
Rooney
Young (Hernandez)