Manchester City’s slim Premier League title hopes suffered another setback as they were held to a draw by Fulham.
City, badly missing the creativity of the injured David Silva, went ahead when Mario Balotelli rifled in a superb right-foot shot from outside the area.
Aleksandar Kolarov wasted a fine chance before Fulham, managed by former City boss Mark Hughes, levelled when Damien Duff converted Andrew Johnson’s cross.
Carlos Tevez and Kolarov went close, but City could not find a winner.
The draw leaves City 10 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United having played a game more than their local rivals.
And it was a result that will mean a lot to Hughes, who was sacked as City manager in 2009 as the club appointed Roberto Mancini as his replacement.
It appeared as though there is little love lost between Hughes and Mancini, who came together in angry fashion after the final whistle. They walked towards each other without looking and barely shook hands, both men withdrawing their grasp and disappearing down the tunnel.
But Hughes will be by far the happier of the two bosses having seen his side accumulate another crucial point in their battle to stay in the top flight and they thoroughly deserved it for another determined display.
City, fresh from easing into the last 16 of the Europa League in midweek, were never at their best and they must now focus on gathering enough points to ensure they stay in the top four and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Balotelli, Tevez and Edin Dzeko once again formed a three-man attack but they were impressively shackled by the visitors’ rearguard and missed the prompting and probing of Silva, who was sidelined by an ankle injury.
City’s best early chance was a Balotelli volley from a corner that flew over but the visitors quickly replied with two of their own as they began to enjoy themselves. First Danny Murphy fired narrowly over and then Moussa Dembele forced the home side’s goalkeeper Joe Hart into action, both shots coming from outside the area.
Just as Mancini’s men seemed to be struggling, a moment of magic broke the deadlock in their favour. Balotelli played a one-two with Tevez outside the Fulham box on the left and after holding off Murphy, he bulleted a right-foot shot into the bottom corner of Schwarzer’s net.
The Londoners’ heads briefly went down and the visitors could have been 2-0 behind when their defenders inexplicably let the ball run into their penalty area to Kolarov on the left, the Serb selfishly shooting into the side-netting instead of squaring to Tevez or Dzeko.
But gradually the Cottagers worked their way back into it and, after Dembele had an effort bravely blocked, they got the reward their endeavour deserved soon after the restart.
It was a beautifully worked goal too. Brede Hangeland fed a pass to Johnson down the right and he fizzed over a cross to the back post where Duff, hurtling forward, met the ball eight yards out and directed it past a flat-footed Hart.
Fulham were suitably buoyed and striker Johnson fired low at Hart as the Eastlands crowd began to show signs of their frustration with City struggling.
Slowly but surely City did begin to create some chances of their own and Balotelli mis-kicked eight yards out after great work down the right from Pablo Zabaleta, before Patrick Vieira came on for the ineffective Dzeko and gave Mancini’s side a lift.
Balotelli played Tevez through and his left-foot shot was superbly tipped around his post by Cottagers keeper Mark Schwarzer, before Kolarov’s awkwardly dipping volley from fully 30 yards was pushed over the bar.
But the home side continued to labour and in the end they can have few complaints about Fulham heading back to London with a point.