Fulham have a habit of stirring comebacks against Manchester City. Whilst the latest might not match the stupendous victory at Eastlands that kickstarted their great escape in 2008, it was just as unexpected. Fulham sat bottom of the table at the start of play and the first 46 minutes only served to illustrate the gulf between Martin Jol’s side and City, who looked on course to extend their flawless start to the season, courtesy of two sharply-taken Sergio Aguero goals. But Fulham are not short of spirit and, adopting a more direct and – perhaps – desperate approach clawed their way back into a contest that looked beyond them.
Bobby Zamora had largely been a peripheral figure, starved of both service and support, before he turned to fire a clever pass from Clint Dempsey into the top corner from the edge of the box. The goal lifted Fulham, who had shown City far too much respect in the first period into a prolonged assault on the visiting goal and Joe Hart produced a couple of superb saves to preserve City’s advantage. He was at full-stretch to turn Moussa Dembele’s drive around the post and stuck out a glove to tip over Dempey’s downward header from a corner. There was little the England goalkeeper could do about the equaliser, however. Zamora teed up his captain, 20 yards out in a central position, and Danny Murphy’s low shot deflected off Vincent Kompany and trickled into the corner. Cue bedlam and a ‘Poznan’ style celebration from most of the home supporters.
It might not have been Martin Jol’s seventh straight league win against Manchester City but this rousing riposte could be the spark to ignite Fulham’s season after an alarming start. Having been outplayed by a rampant City, the point was as welcome as it was unexpected. The visitors looked electrifying once they began to find their stride after a rather sedate start, with Aguero to the fore. Fulham would have needed no reminding of the Argentine’s ability after his two goals ended their remarkable Europa League run in Hamburg in 2010, but couldn’t stop Aguero clinically firing past Mark Schwarzer having latched onto a cute reverse ball from David Silva. There were suspicions of offside, but the goal stood.
Fulham were fortunate to be just a goal down at the interval. Schwarzer had to be at his very best to keep out a stinging long-distance drive from Gael Clichy and somehow got his fingertips to a blistering strike from Edin Dzeko after the Bosnian had been found by a brilliant Silva cross. Half-time provided the briefest of respites as City doubled their lead just ten seconds into the second period. Dzeko beat Brede Hangeland to Clichy’s crossfield punt and Aguero took a touch to steady himself before driving a right-footed shot in the far corner. The little Argentine had a third ruled out for offside shortly afterwards.
Fulham’s second half display had more than just grit and determination. There was incisiveness football and clever interchanges behind a fluid front four, suggesting that Jol’s 4-3-2-1 formation – that had previously been narrow and predictable – might now be clicking. The build-up to Zamora’s opener, with Dembele feeding Dempsey, was first class and the striker’s turn and shot reminiscent of the kind of strikes he had served up on those memorable European nights. City will rue their missed chances and perhaps Mancini’s conservatism. The lively Silva was sacrificed for Pablo Zabaleta in a bid to secure the points. It didn’t work.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, J. Riise, Baird, Hangeland; Sidwell, Murphy; Duff (Kasami 61), Dempsey, Dembele (Ruiz 87); Zamora. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Gygera, Senderos, Gecov, Sa.
GOALS: Zamora (55), Murphy (75).
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1) Hart; Richards, Clichy, Lescott, Kompany; Y. Toure, Barry; Silva (Zabaleta 69), Aguero (Tevez 83), Nasri (Adam Johnson 81); Dzeko. Subs (not used): Pantilimon, K. Toure, Kolarov, Balotelli.
GOALS: Aguero (18, 46).
REFEREE: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).