Erling Haaland’s hat-trick sent Manchester City into the international break two points clear at the top of the Premier League – but Fulham were furious that their spirited first half display was rendered academic after the match officials allowed Nathan Ake’s stoppage time header, which put the hosts 2-1 up, to stand despite Manuel Akanji obstructing Bernd Leno in an offside position.
Marco Silva remonstrated with Michael Oliver as he left the field but managed to avoid a fourth yellow card in as many league games. Antonee Robinson was cautioned – but Fulham’s anger was understandable. They had responded to the disappointment of going behind to Julian Alvarez’s strike within two minutes with a clever corner routine. Raul Jimenez guided a Andreas Pereira corner goalwards and, although Ederson got something on it, Tim Ream stabbed home the simplest finish of his career from barely a yard out.
The game’s pivotal moment arrived when Ake headed a corner into the bottom corner from thirteen yards, but Leno’s view and his subsequent drive were obstructed by Akanji’s presence in the German goalkeeper’s eyeline. It appeared to be a clear-cut example of an attacker interfering with play and there was a long VAR check after Oliver spoke to his assistant – but the goal was given. Silva might have sought to draw attention to the moment when Harry Wilson was dragged back by the neck when he appeared to be through on goal after twenty minutes, but he is clearly trying to avoid more disciplinary problems.
Fulham, who had fought bravely in the first period despite losing Tom Cairney within fifteen minutes to a knee injury, continued to take the game to the treble winners after the interval. Bobby Decordova-Reid drove over from distance after working a nice one-two, but City were able to dominate possession without needing to push numbers forward as they held the lead. An extension of that advantage appeared inevitable and a third goal arrived just before the hour.
Haaland, who had made City’s opening goal for Alvarez, galloped onto a clever through ball from the Argentine attacking midfielder to finish clinically past Leno. The visitors still retained their ambition and almost delivered another rapid riposte. Raul Jimenez fashioned a good chance from the byline for teenage midfielder Luke Harris but the bright Welsh midfielder scuffed his finish and Ederson made a simple stop.
Issa Diop did brilliantly to deny Alvarez after the intelligent forward looked the favourite to reach a through ball from Haaland, but then conceded a daft penalty moments later – pushing over Alvarez as he burst into the box. Haaland thumped home the penalty to make it 4-1. Timothy Castagne came off the bench to make his Fulham debut after and the Belgian full back made an immediate impression, providing lofted a lovely ball for Jimenez. The Mexican striker, who worked tirelessly all afternoon, was unlucky not to break his barren scoring run when his curler was saved by the diving Edersen.
Haaland completed his hat-trick in the fifth minute of added time after being set up by substitute Sergio Gomez to put the Whites out of their misery. The visitors were spirited and had a game plan, even in the absence of Joao Palhinha following his deadline day jaunt to Bayern Munich. Silva’s side were bright on the break it needed a deft defensive header from Ake to deny Jimenez an aerial opportunity at the back post from Decordova-Reid’s deep cross.
Diop made an excellent interception to prevent Haaland from getting a set of goal after a fine run from Phil Foden but Haaland beat the Fulham offside trap from City’s next attack and squared for Alvarez to open the scoring. But the Cottagers were level within ninety minutes as Ream crept in unnoticed to level after that clever corner routine – only for a farcical decision to give the champions a helping hand they didn’t really need.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Ederson; Walker, Ake, Dias, Akanji; Rodri (B. Silva 76), Kovacic (Philipps 84); Doku (Gomez 76), Foden (Bobb 90), Alvarez (Lewis 90); Haaland. Subs (not used): Carson, Gvardiol, Ortega, Nunes.
BOOKED: Rodri, B. Silva.
GOALS: Alvarez (31), Ake (45+5), Haaland (58, pen 70, 90+5).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete (Castagne 73), A. Robinson, Diop, Ream; Reed, Cairney (Harris 16); Wilson (Traore 81), Decordova-Reid (Willian 73), Pereira; Jimenez (Muniz 81). Subs (not used): Rodak, Bassey, Francois, Vinicius.
BOOKED: Diop, A. Robinson, Decordova-Reid, Pereira.
GOAL: Ream (33).
REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).