For forty five minutes, Fulham blunted Manchester City’s considerable attacking arsenal and looked to have given themselves a chance of escaping the relegation zone this evening. But, in the sort of implosion that characterised their disastrous start to the season, Scott Parker’s side conceded three goals in thirteen second half minutes as Pep Guardiola’s charges strolled to a comfortable victory at Craven Cottage and moved seventeen points clear at the top of the table.
The manner of Fulham’s meek capitulation after the break will have disappointed Parker, especially after their diligence and determination had stoutly kept the visitors at bay in the first half. Their hard won parity lasted just 76 seconds once Andre Marriner had harshly penalised a Joachim Andersen challenge close to the right touchline. Fulham’s high defensive line has served them well since Parker reshaped his rearguard, but it allowed a rejuvanated John Stones to saunter unimpeded onto Joao Cancelo’s cross and put City in front.
Another calamity wasn’t long in coming. Ivan Cavaleiro, deployed as a wide forward in a system designed to contain the champions’ elect, wandered aimlessly infield and towards a sea of opponents. His anxious pass played Andersen into trouble and the Danish defender’s desperate attempt at a clearance, cannoned off Cavaleiro and allowed Gabriel Jesus a clear run on goal. The Brazilian breezed round a stranded Alphonse Areola and rolled home his twelve league goal of the campaign. Tosin Adarabioyo then made the wrong sort of impression against his former employers, attempting a dragback on the edge of his own box and presenting the ball to Ferran Torres, before clipping the winger inside the area. Sergio Aguero, a regular scourge of Fulham, gleefully dispatched the penalty – scoring his first league goal in fourteen months.
The rest of the game was something of a training exercise, which would have suited Guardiola, who rested a number of key players ahead of their Champions’ League commitments against Borussia Moenchengladbach on Tuesday night. The visitors stroked the ball around confidently and might have added to their lead, with the hosts still guilty of overplaying in their own final third. Fulham flickered briefly with their three substitutes to the fore. Aleksandar Mitrovic produced a peach of a ball to free Josh Onomah, who was denied a consolation by a combination of Ruben Dias and Ederson. Antonee Robinson made a couple of threatening runs down the left flank, but barring one blocked Mitrovic shot there was little in the way of penetration.
Parker’s plan to outwit the runaway leaders had looked promising early on. Both Ademola Lookman and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa got themselves into the space behind City’s three centre backs, but Fulham’s one concerted period of pressure ended in frustration – chiefly because a succession of crosses were aimed towards Lookman, who was outnumbered and hardly a towering presence in any case. Areola made a couple of smart saves at his near post from Torres and Aguero but the hosts were largely untroubled – even hinting at an attacking threat of their own when Kenny Tete almost sneaked onto a deep cross from the left, but the bounce proved unfavourable.
Parker will need to quickly switch Fulham’s focus away from their dreadful second half defending and onto a home meeting with Leeds United on Friday night. Their excellent recent run offers genuine hope that they can avoid the drop but they will need to offer more in attack, with Josh Maja – omitted in favour of a conservative approach this evening – likely to return.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Areola; Tete, Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Lemina (Onomah 73), Anguissa; Loftus-Cheek (Mitrovic 63), Lookman, Cavaleiro (Robinson 80). Subs (not used): Fabri, Hector, Kongolo, Ream, Bryan, Maja.
MANCHESTER CITY (3-4-1-2): Ederson; Stones, Dias (Garcia 75), Laporte; Cancelo, Mendy, Rodri, Bernado Silva (Fernandinho 67); Torres; Aguero, Jesus. Subs (not used): Steffen, Walker, Zinchenko, Gundogan, de Bruyne, Foden, Mahrez.
GOALS: Stones (47), Jesus (56), Aguero (pen 60).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).