Edin Dzeko grabbed a late winner only sixty seconds after being summoned from the substitutes bench as Manchester City came from behind to beat Fulham in a dramatic finale at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
The reigning champions appeared to be heading for a third league game within a win until the Bosnian forward fired home Gael Clichy’s cross with three minutes remaining. Roberto Mancini’s men had fallen behind in the tenth minute at Craven Cottage when Pablo Zabaleta was adjudged to have brought down John Arne Riise. Mladen Pedric confidently sent Joe Hart the wrong way from the penalty spot.
City dominated much of the rest of the first half but had to wait until just before the interval to draw level. Sergio Aguero, a regular scourge of Fulham since that heartbreaking night in Hamburg, rolled home the rebound after Mark Schwarzer had just about kept out a deflected drive from Carlos Tevez.
Fulham were without the services of Dimitar Berbatov after the former Manchester United forward picked up a knee niggle in training this week. He was replaced by Mladen Petric and the Croatian had an early impact, calmly stroking home the penalty controversially awarded by Mark Halsey. Petric might have doubled his tally just five minutes later but he scooped a finish disappointingly over the bar after excellent link-up play with Hugo Rodallega.
The home side were gradually coming under greater pressure with Brede Hangeland having to be alert to clear a dangerous cross from Zabaleta that flew across the Fulham six yard box. Riise saw a powerful free-kick from all of 35 yards brilliantly saved by Hart before Fulham enjoyed a fortunate escape at the other end as Aguero somehow contrived to head into the side netting after Javi Garcia had sent a David Silva corner back across goal after escaping his marker.
The game remained incredibly open. Schwarzer saved well from the rampaging Gael Clichy after the full back had burst into the box and Vincent Kompany was forced into desperate measures to prevent Petric from driving into the City penalty area. After the ensuing free-kick was blocked by the wall, Bryan Ruiz rattled an effort agonisingly wide. Schwarzer saved superbly from Silva after a goalmouth scramble and Aaron Hughes stabbed away the danger from the follow-up.
But Martin Jol’s men couldn’t quite hold out until half time. Tevez’s deflected shot was well saved by Schwarzer but the rebound fell kindly for Aguero and the Argentinian made no mistake from close range. Fulham were on the back foot for much of the second half after Hangeland almost headed in a Ruiz corner and Aguero nearly put the away side ahead with a glancing header that almost looped over Schwarzer.
Mancini sent on Mario Balotelli and the enigmatic Italian almost had an immediate impact, curling a fabulous effort fractionally wide from just outside the area. Fulham substitute Alex Kacaniklic threatened at the other end with his surging run only halted by the hand of Zabaleta. This time Halsey waved away home appeals for a penalty and Ruiz drove the loose ball towards the top corner – only for Hart to pull off a sensational save.
Fulham looked like they had done enough to claim a creditable point but the champions struck late when Riise failed to convincingly clear Clichy’s cross and substitute Dzeko rifled home the winner only a minute after coming off the bench.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird (Karagounis 81), Sidwell; Duff, Rodallega, Ruiz; Petric (Kacaniklic 66). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Briggs, Smith, Kasami.
GOAL: Petric (pen 10).
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Clichy, Kompany, Nastasic; Barry (Nasri 76), Garcia (Dzeko 86); Silva, Aguero, Toure; Tevez (Balotelli 66). Subs (not used): Pantilimon, Lescott, Kolarov, Milner.
GOALS: Aguero (44), Dzeko (87).
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).