Fulham made the perfect start to what Jean Tigana billed as a defining game for their season at Manchester City. Steed Malbranque opened the scoring with a special individual strike, capitalising on a mistake by Richard Dunne, to fire home after two minutes. But, by the end of a miserable evening, Kevin Keegan’s side had scored four to completely transform the mood at Maine Road – and leave the Whites worrying about relegation once more.
Malbranque will rue the fact that another shot rattled the woodwork just moments later because that was the catalyst for the home side to come into the contest. City scored from their first attack, with Kevin Horlock winning a header far too easily in the Fulham area and Nicolas Anelka, who broke Fulham hearts at Shepherd’s Bush before Christmas, drove home with a modicum of fuss. Fulham’s confidence completely evaporated. They managed to get to half-time level but were utterly overwhelmed after the interval.
Left winger Djamel Belmadi, making his first City start, looked the likeliest source of another goal for the hosts and so it proved early in the second period. His pass was helped on by Anelka and the ball broke kindly to Ali Benarbia, whose mishit shot trickled over the line. Fulham’s defence suddenly looked all over the place and missed several attempts to clear the danger before Marc Vivien-Foe drove home just after the hour mark.
Substitute Shaun-Wright Phillips gave the scoreline a flattering 4-1 look when he scored with his first touch after replacing Bernabia. Former Fulham manager Kevin Keegan acclaimed ‘a very good day for Manchester City’ with the signing of Robbie Fowler expected to be confirmed in the morning. Fulham, however, will rue both their misfortune and wretched defending. There’s plenty of work for Tigana to do to turn things round.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-5-1): Nash, Sommeil, Howey, Distin, Dunne; Benarbia (Wright-Phillips 70), Foe, Horlock, Jensen, Belmadi; Anelka (Goater 86). Subs (not used): Weaver, Jihai, Huckerby.
BOOKED: Foe, Sommeil, Jensen.
GOALS: Anelka (21), Bernarbia (47), Foe (61), Wright-Phillips (70).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor, Finnan, Djetou, Goma, Brevett; Goldbaek, Davis, Legwinski, Malbranque; Marlet, Boa Morte. Subs (not used): Herrera, Melville, Inamoto, Sava, Harley.
BOOKED: Boa Morte.
GOAL: Malbranque (2).
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Kent).
used): Herrera, Melville, Inamoto, Sava, Harley.
BOOKED: Boa Morte.