Home » EPL, Latest » Match Report: Fulham 2 Man City 4

Like half-and-half scarves or the strangely resilient appeal of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Manchester City’s patchy away form is one of the enduring mysteries of modern football.

For most of this Premier League season, the words “Manchester City (H)” on a fixture list have evoked a curious amalgam of trepidation and optimism. This win, a good deal more convincing than it looked, will inspire a good deal of the former. And yet their inexplicable second-half slump, during which they threw away two goals and very nearly two points, will do little to extinguish the latter.

On the face of things, Manuel Pellegrini deserves a good deal of credit. Managers get the book thrown at them when substitutions go wrong, so the fact that the two winning goals came from the bench should count in his favour.

The flying Spaniard Jesus Navas and the hovering Yorkshireman James Milner eventually made the game safe, but it was a lack of concentration that made the game unsafe in the first place. If City can manage to stay switched on for all 90 minutes, the title is theirs to lose.

There were plenty of positives. Joe Hart made his return in goal and did very little wrong. A four-goal haul was encouraging in the absence of Sergio Aguëro. But Gaël Clichy’s catastrophic afternoon as City’s makeshift right-back underlined the value of Pablo Zabaleta – or, indeed, anyone who is not Gaël Clichy – in that position. And Edin Dzeko, for whom this was a big opportunity to seize the moment, was poor and was hauled off before the hour.

Pellegrini indicated that Hart would keep his place. “Today Joe did well,” he said. “At the moment, Joe will continue to play in the next game. He understood perfectly that he was not in a good moment. He has been working very hard, and I thought he deserved another opportunity. It was a tough decision, because we were winning, and [Costel] Pantillimon was doing well also.”

Fulham fought well, but there are still too many passengers in their squad. Giorgos Karagounis looked tired from about the seventh minute. Whatever Scott Parker used to “offer” a side, he now appears to have withdrawn. Rene Meulensteen’s first priority is to keep Fulham afloat until January.

At least they looked like they cared, which was not always the case under Martin Jol. Most of the game was played at a frenetic pace. Often you will see foreign players referring to the “speed” of the English game. This was a classic example. Players were lucky to get a second touch on the ball, especially in midfield.

The exception, naturally, was Yaya Toure, who generally takes as many touches as he wants. But he needed just one to put City ahead; a curling free-kick from 22 yards that clipped the bar on its way in. It was his fourth goal from a direct free-kick this season. Ridiculous.

Just before half-time, Vincent Kompany put City two ahead. A free-kick from the right was headed at goal by Martin Demichelis and bundled away by Maarten Stekelenburg, Kompany got ahead of Fernando Amorebieta and stabbed it home before wheeling away in that dignified way he does, like a UN aid-worker scoring against a team of African schoolchildren.

But just as City sought to cruise home, a mistake by David Silva allowed Fulham an undeserved way back into the match. Silva lost the ball to Parker’s poke, Steve Sidwell knocked it forward for Adel Taarabt, Taarabt squirmed past Clichy far too easily, and slid the ball across for Richardson to score.

City took the goal as a personal affront. Pellegrini brought on Navas for Dzeko, who trundled off the pitch sadly, like a fat child who had just broken a stool. But Fulham, buoyed by their stroke of fortune, continued to press, and soon benefited from another.

Sascha Riether hared down the right flank. Lovely Riether, metres made. Kompany appeared to have his low cross covered, but as he tried to clear it left-footed, it sliced off his foot and looped high over Hart and in at the far post. Kompany’s face nestled gently in Kompany’s hands. What had he done?

But the effort of getting level had taken its toll on Fulham, and now Navas picked them apart. He put City 3-2 ahead with a good low shot through Stekelenburg’s legs from a tight angle. Milner applied the gloss, finding himself unmarked eight yards out and tucking home Negredo’s cross.

Meulensteen later revealed that Dimitar Berbatov had succumbed to a late groin injury in training.

Match details

Fulham (4-1-2-3): Stekelenburg 5; Riether 7, Senderos 5 (Amorebieta 37), Hughes 6, Riise 5; Karagounis 5 (Bent 82); Parker 5, Sidwell 7; Dejagah 6 (Kasami 65), Taarabt 6, Richardson 6. Subs Stockdale, Duff, Kacaniklic, Ruiz.
Booked Karagounis.

Manchester City (4-2-2-2): Hart 7; Clichy 4, Kompany 7, Demichelis 7, Kolarov 7; Fernandinho 7, Toure 8; Silva 7 (Garcia 84), Nasri 6 (Milner 75); Negredo 8, Dzeko 5 (Navas 58). Subs Pantilimon, Boyata, Guidetti, Rodwell. Booked Demichelis.

Referee K Friend (Leics)

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