Collins John grabbed an opening day point for Fulham at Manchester City – as his deflected strike helped Chris Coleman’s side recover from conceding a trademark drive from Robbie Fowler in an entertaining draw at Eastlands.
The teenage Dutch striker outshone his two new strike partners as he brought Fulham back into a game that the hosts had largely dominated by driving home from distance, with David James hindered by the slight deflection off Danny Mills. After the equaliser, both sides had chances to win the contest and the hosts were grateful for the point by the final whistle as the Londoners finished the game on the front foot.
Shaun Wright-Phillips, who is yet to sign a new deal to commit his future to City, was the star of the show in the first half. The young winger almost got Kevin Keegan’s side off the perfect start with a remarkable run from his own penalty area that saw him beat three Fulham defenders before sending into a dangerous cross that Moritz Volz was delighted to clear behind.
Wright-Phillips then measured another glorious ball to set Nicolas Anelka clear on the right but the Frenchman’s inviting centre flew right across the face of goal as Fulham continued to live on their nerves. The visitors’ luck run out in 28 minutes when Fowler scored a sensational goal. Antoine Sibierski helped Mills’ long-throw on into the box and Fowler, with his back to goal, hooked an outstanding finish over his shoulder and Edwin van der Sar into the top corner. That sent the capacity ground delirious.
Andy Cole struggled on his second Fulham debut, horribly isolated as the visitors’ main figurehead in attack, despite having any debutant in Tomasz Radzinski for company on the left flank. The experienced striker took his frustration out on Claudio Reyna and was booked for a wild lunge on the American just before half-time.
The second half continued in much the same vein. The diminutive Wright-Phillips still looked City’s most dangerous outlet, even beating the Fulham defenders in the air when he outjumped two to head Sibierksi’s floated cross fractionally wide. But Coleman’s side fashioned an equaliser out of nowhere when City lost concentration as Claus Jensen fizzed in a delivery from the right. The home defence failed to clear and John made the most of the opportunity as his speculative strike looped it off Mills leaving James with no chance.
The goal galvanised Fulham with Jensen, played in by an excellent pass from Papa Bouba Diop, denied by a brilliant save from James. van der Sar did superbly to keep out Sibierski’s diving header from a Reyna free-kick and the French attacking midfielder shot just wide from outside the area after linking up dangerously with Jon Macken. As the home side pushed forward in the hope of restoring their lead, Fulham began to make the most of the space in front of City’s back four.
Substitute Brian McBride sent a header wide and the increasingly influential Jensen almost found Cole with a peach of a ball let on but Coleman’s side were happy to head back to London with a well-earned point.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): James; Mills, Thatcher, Dunne, Distin; Bosvelt (Barton 78), Reyna, Wright-Phillips, Sibierski; Fowler (Macken 77), Anelka. Subs (not used): Stuhr-Ellegaard, Jihai, McManaman.
GOAL: Fowler (28).
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Bocanegra, Pearce, Knight; Diop, Legwinski, Jensen; John (McBride 63), Radzinski, Cole. Subs (not used): Crossley, Goma, Rehman.
BOOKED: Cole, Volz.
GOAL: John (56).
REFEREE: Matt Messias (South Yorkshire).