Any hope that Fulham had of extending their fine unbeaten run against Manchester City evaporated inside half an hour of this clash at the City of Manchester Stadium this evening. Significant questions were awaiting Roberto Mancini’s side after their defeat by Everton midweek and, with skipper Vincent Kompany still unavailable despite completing his suspension after picking up a knock in training, there was a hint of brittleness about the league leaders.
Martin Jol pledged that his side wouldn’t sit back and soak up the pressure but take the game to City, but Fulham never really had the opportunity to get out of first gear. Mike Dean was more than obliging when Adam Johnson took a tumble after running into Chris Baird after nine minutes – the England midfielder making the most of minimal contact that he initiated himself after catching the Ulsterman’s foot with his own. Sergio Aguero made no mistake with the spot kick, planting it past the recalled Mark Schwarzer into the bottom right hand corner.
Baird, a surprising inclusion ahead of John Arne Riise at left back, endured a difficult evening in the snow. He became even more frustrated after Johnson threw himself to the ground by the byline under no challenge, but the telling blow arrived on the half hour mark. Fulham failed to deal with a fizzing cross from Aleksander Kolarov and, when Johnson attempted to return the ball within interest across the six-yard box from the back post, his cross-cum-shot rebounded off the unfortunate Baird and flew past Schwarzer.
Fulham had little chance of recovering from that two-goal deficit, whatever their record of startling recoveries against City might have suggested. Instead, they were fortunate not to be further behind by the break. Schwarzer’s reflexes prevented Philippe Senderos from adding another own goal and Brede Hangeland’s brilliant saving tackle denied Edin Dzeko, who had earlier gone close on two occasions, when Fulham were caught horribly square at the back. Though Clint Dempsey and the returning Moussa Dembele worked tirelessly, the visitors offered little on the counter save for a scurrying run and shot from Damien Duff that crept just wide.
Even though Fulham had the greater share of the possession in a more even second period, Jol’s side were restricted to hopeful shots from distance. Joe Hart, a virtual spectator for much of the contest, smothered a Danny Murphy effort and got down well to save from both Baird and Stephen Kelly. Fulham paid for their failure to stretch the England goalkeeper when the quick feet of Aguero uncovered gaping holes in their back line. Both Senderos and Hangeland were left flat-footed by the nippy Argentine as he sped towards goal and Aguero unselfishly squared the ball to Dzeko as he bore down on Schwarzer, leaving the Bosnian striker with a simple finish.
The game was stopped twice as the heavy snow forced referee Dean to summon the ground staff and their shovels to clear away snow and remark the goal-lines, but the match had long since lost any semblance of urgency. Kolarov was fortunate to avoid a second booking after clashing with Dembele as both players put their heads towards one another after the City full-back had tugged back Dembele. Fulham’s frustrating afternoon was summed up in the dying embers of the contest when substitute Bryan Ruiz’s corner was diverted onto his own post by Dzeko. When your luck’s out, it’s well and truly out.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-2-2): Hart; Richards, Kolarov, Savic, Lescott; Adam Johnson (Pizarro 90), Barry; Nasri (Milner 54), Silva; Dzeko, Aguero (de Jong 80). Subs (not used): Pantilmon, Zabaleta, Clichy, Rekik.
GOAL: Aguero (pen 10), Baird (o.g. 30), Dzeko (72).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Baird, Senderos (J.A. Riise 73), Hangeland; Etuhu (Ruiz 68), Murphy; Duff, Davies, Dembele (Gecov 85); Dempsey. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Hughes, Kasami, Frei.
BOOKED: Senderos, Dembele, Baird.
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).