Perhaps it was a case of after the Lord’s Mayor Show. Fulham, so pumped up for the visit of Premiership Southampton in the FA Cup in midweek, failed to fire at Maine Road this afternoon. Manchester City took full advantage to cruise past the Cottagers with unexpected ease as they embark on a crucial period in their promotion push. Joe Royle isn’t tempting fate but victories over their other promotion rivals, Walsall and Stoke in the next fortnight, would put City right in the race to return to Division One.
More than 30,000 long-suffering City diehards revelled in the ease of their victory over the league leaders, who were probably flattered by the closeness of the eventual 3-0 scoreline. Royle hailed this convincing display as ‘our best of the season’ and it was built on the tireless of trainee midfielder Michael Brown, who has seized his chance to impress the boss. A talented playmaker who is tenacious in the tackle, he fizzed around the engine room while Fulham were flat in comparison. A treble change midway through the second half failed to breathe any life into the Londoners.
Shaun Goater, who opened the scoring with a smartly-taken first half header from Lee Crooks’ cross, has forged an impressive partnership with Gareth Taylor. The latter’s leathered finished effectively ended the contest before half-time, much to the chagrin of a dispirited Kevin Keegan. Kevin Horlock, whose return to midfield has coincided with a four match unbeaten league run that has the blue half of the city believing again, drilled in a fabulous free-kick to make it three.
Keegan could even be forgiven for thinking he was managing City rather than Fulham given the inexplicable dip from the highs of dumping Southampton out of the Cup for the second time this season in midweek. On this evidence, the Cottagers’ promotion to the second tier is far from assured. They were outfought, outworked and completely outplayed by hungry opponents, who eagerly exacted revenge for their own humbling at Craven Cottage back in August.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Weaver; Edghill, Vaughan, Crooks, Wiekens; Horlock (Jim Whiteley 88), Brown, Cooke, Pollock; Goater, G. Taylor. Subs (not used): Bishop, Dickov.
BOOKED: G. Taylor, Brown, Pollock, Cooke, Vaughan.
GOALS: Goater (24), G. Taylor (32), Horlock (54).
FULHAM (4-4-2): M. Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Symons, Coleman; Bracewell (Smith 68), Neilson, Hayward, Brazier (Peschisolido 68); Hayles, Lehmann (Horsfield 68).
BOOKED: Brevett, Neilson.
REFEREE: Andy Hall (West Midlands).