It seemed so straightforward for Manchester City. Having dominated the first half, they stormed into a two-goal lead in the space of seven second-half minutes and looked set to continue their flawless home record. Joleon Lescott poked home from about six inches after Fulham failed to clear a corner and Martin Petrov finished a flowing move to seemingly put the game out of the reach of Roy Hodgson’s side but Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey brought the London side level to set up an enthralling finale.
It continued a fine run of form for Fulham, who followed up a vital win at home to struggling Hull on Monday with a brilliant performance against Roma in the Europa League on Thursday when three points were cruelly snatched away by an added-time equaliser. They were largely on the back foot for most of the first half, missing the presence of Dickson Etuhu and the creativity of skipper Danny Murphy in central midfield.
Emmanuel Adebayor, who shook off worries about his ankle injury to return after his suspension for stamping on Robin van Persie, looked threatening throughout and he made the first chance for little Carlos Tevez. The Argentine didn’t strike his shot cleanly and his effort bobbled wide of Mark Schwarzer’s far post. Adebayor then very nearly produced a moment of genius to convert a cross from the lively Craig Bellamy – but his backheel just wasn’t powerful enough to beat Schwarzer.
Fulham weren’t short of attacking threat themselves and perhaps should have taken the lead either side of half-time. Diomansy Kamara was played in by Bobby Zamora but as both the Senegalese forward and the City backline looked to see whether he was offside a heavy touch allowed Shay Given to sprint off his line and claim the ball. Jonathan Greening drove a snapshot just wide and Fulham were somewhat fortunate to remain level. Schwarzer did superbly to deny Nigel de Jong and Micah Richards thought he’d headed the home side ahead only for referee Kevin Friend to disallow the goal for a foul by Gareth Barry on Chris Baird.
Zamora was the culprit five minutes after the break when he was missed a glorious chance to open the scoring. His horrible miss after Given did well to deny Dempsey came on the back of two excellent performances against Hull and Roma – and he really should have done better from close range with the goal gaping. Hodgson’s side soon paid the price for Zamora’s prolifigacy.
Fulham struggled to clear Bellamy’s corner and Barry prodded the ball back into a dangerous area. Adebayor looked as though he had forced the ball past Schwarzer but Lescott claimed the goal after poking the ball over the line from underneath the crossbar. Then, with Fulham still reeling from the first goal, Barry and Petrov exchanged passes at pace and the Bulgarian beat his man before lashing home a terrific left-footed effort.
The home fans lapped up City’s ruthlessness in front of goal and, far from there being a hint of what was to come, it seemed that Mark Hughes’ side could go on and score three or four. Fulham’s response was testament to the fighting spirit that Hodgson has instilled into his squad, something that was highlighted by Aaron Hughes prior to this game. They grabbed a lifeline on 62 minutes when Stephen Kelly, deputising for the injured Paul Konchesky at left back, crossed in and Zamora did splendidly to chest the ball down and tee up Duff who beat his compatriot Given with a powerful low drive. Dempsey then snatched an incredible equaliser when City switched off at a free-kick and the American rose splendidly to head home.
In an absorbingly open finale, both teams had chances to grab all three points. Barry nodded a Bellamy cross just wide, but it was Fulham who had the best opportunities. Given did brilliantly to block a Hangeland header and Dempsey headed over from a corner but Hodgson’s side will have been delighted to claim a point after the game appeared beyond them.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Given; Richards, Bridge, Toure (Kompany 90), Lescott; de Jong (Ireland 72), Barry, Bellamy, Petrov (Wright-Phillips 67); Adebayor, Tevez. Subs (not used): Taylor, Sylvinho, Johnson, Weiss.
GOALS: Lescott (53), Petrov (60).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Greening, Duff, Dempsey; Zamora, Kamara (Seol 90). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Gera, Riise, Nevland, E. Johnson.
BOOKED: Hangeland, Pantsil.
GOALS: Duff (62), Dempsey (68).
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).