- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - A late fight back by Manchester United against Fulham counted for little as Darren Bent scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time to claim a 2-2 draw for the Premier League’s bottom team against the struggling champions on Sunday.

Fulham first stunned Old Trafford in the 19th minute when Steve Sidwell scored to leave seventh-place United facing a ninth loss of its title defense.

It took Robin van Persie until the 78th minute to level and Michael Carrick netted again for United inside two minutes, bringing Wayne Rooney to his knees in celebration and Moyes punching the air with relief.

Goalkeeper David de Gea turned away a shot from former United winger Kieran Richardson, but sent the ball straight into the path of the substitute Bent who nodded into an empty net.

Now it was the turn of Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen, United’s assistant under Alex Ferguson until May, to punch the air as his side snatched a precious point.

“You could say we maybe had a mental softness in that we didn’t see the game out and get the job done,” United manager David Moyes said.

“It was just a case of playing out time,” he added. “And we gave away a diabolical second goal.”

For Moyes and United, now nine points away from a Champions League place, a miserable season just keeps getting worse. And, with a visit to Arsenal on Wednesday, there is no end to the trouble in sight.

While Fulham had the instinct to survive the United bombardment throughout, the visitors had the pace to exert pressure on their hosts when the counter-attacking opportunities came.

“When I saw Manchester United today I thought the game plan was quite straightforward,” Meulensteen said. “Get it wide, get it in.”

Lewis Holtby, a midfielder on loan from Tottenham, was the inspiration behind the visitors’ opener, dropping a cross into the penalty area.

Captain Nemanja Vidic had been pulled out of position and, as neither Darren Fletcher nor Juan Mata had tracked Sidwell’s run, the midfielder was able to slide the ball past a stranded De Gea.

It was the first time Fulham had scored an opening goal since December - and the London club should have scored more. Holtby created a golden chance for Richardson but he could only blaze the ball over.

But United was creating more chances - even if the attacking instinct seemed to be lacking. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg denied Carrick’s powerful shot and Vidic’s header.

Adnan Januzaj’s introduction for Fletcher with around half an hour remaining, followed by the arrivals of Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia, meant United had six offensive players trying to score against a team that had kept just four clean sheets all season.

The Red Devils could not fail to score, and didn’t.

Van Persie tucked home Mata’s cross at the far post, then Carrick’s shot looped in off Scott Parker.

Suddenly it was going Moyes‘ way. But not for long, and Bent’s goal came too late for the hosts to conjure a winner.

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