Kevin Keegan, a key figure in Fulham’s ascension to the top flight of English football under Mohamed Al-Fayed, came back to haunt his former employers as Manchester City emerged with all three points from an entertaining encounter in Shepherd’s Bush thanks to a late strike from Nicolas Anelka.
The French forward had failed to hit the target on a number of occasions during a game that swung from end-to-end but he clinically beat Maik Taylor with six minutes to play after being released by substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips. Keegan freely admitted afterwards that defeat was hard on Fulham, who had spurned plenty of chances of their own and are still at risk at being draggled into the relegation battle.
A scrappy early period gave way to an intriguing contest between two sides who were far more committed to attack than defence. Sean Davis almost almost the scoring with a piledriver from distance that flew fractionally wide of Peter Schmeichel’s far post. The Danish goalkeeper than pulled off a superb stop to prevent Steve Marlet from putting the Whites ahead as the French forward burst through on goal and Steed Malbranque missed the target entirely on the rebound.
Marlet, a massive disappointment since moving to west London for £11m from Lyon last summer, fluffed his lines in front of goal six minutes before the break. The French international found himself clean through again but scuffed his shot past Schmeichel and the lack of power allowed Richard Dunne to recover and hook the ball to safety off his own line. Ali Benarbia almost punished Fulham immediately at the other end from a free-kick but Maik Taylor made a magnificent save and Martin Djetou cleared the danger.
Darren Huckerby than missed two good chances to put City ahead as they had more of the play in the second period and Anelka somehow contrived to head wide of goal from two yards with the Fulham defence stretched. But the former Arsenal forward had the last laugh, clinically finding the far corner after being played in by the impressive Wright-Phillips to send the travelling fans into raptures.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Knight, Goma; Davis, Djetou (Legwinski 64), Goldbaek, Malbranque (Hammond 77); Marlet, Sava. Subs (not used): Herrera, Melville, Wome.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Distin, Jensen, Howey, Dunne; Foe, Horlock, Benarbia (Wiekens 86), Berkovic (Jihai 36); Huckerby (Wright-Phillips 69), Anelka. Subs (not used): Nash, Goater.
GOAL: Anelka (84).
REFEREE: Paul Durkin (Dorset).