FULHAM 2 MANCHESTER CITY 4
Fulham Richardson 50', Kompany (og) 69'
Manchester City Toure 23', Kompany 43', Navas 78', Milner 83'
Premier League correspondent
LONDON // It was a chaotic, thrilling afternoon that ended with Manchester City second in the Premier League table, but impressive as they were in reasserting their authority after letting Fulham back into the game, they were close to squandering yet more away points.
With the defensive vulnerability that has already cost them at Cardiff, Aston Villa, Sunderland and Chelsea, they seem determined to go through the season, in scorelines at least, as a 1950s tribute act.
At half time, City seemed to be cruising.
Yaya Toure put them ahead, clipping in a free kick off the underside of the bar, then Vincent Kompany jabbed home after Maarten Stekelenburg had palmed out Martin Demichelis’s header. It was a game in which it seemed they could relax, perhaps resting players ahead of the packed Christmas programme, but then the sloppiness that keeps undermining them away from home resurfaced.
Four minutes after the break, David Silva was dispossessed deep in the Fulham half by Scott Parker.
Steve Sidwell spread the ball to the left, where Adel Taarabt hurtled by Gael Clichy, uncertain covering at right-back for the injured Pablo Zabaleta, and squared for Kieran Richardson to score.
Suddenly a game that had looked over was alive, but there is also a longer-term issue, given that Zabaleta will be out until at least the end of January with a hamstring injury and Micah Richards continues to struggle with muscle problems of his own.
Clichy did not look at all comfortable playing on the wrong side, and it may be that James Milner ends up having to deputise.
As Fulham, scenting weakness, piled forward, City almost visibly bucked.
Clearances were hacked, passes misplaced, Alvaro Negredo took an air shot.
And then, with 20 minutes remaining, Sascha Riether crossed low from the right, Kompany took a wild swing, and sliced the ball over Joe Hart and into the top corner for a bizarre own goal.
But City’s resources give them a tremendous edge.
Jesus Navas, having come on for Edin Dzeko, ran on to David Silva’s pass and shot between Stekelenburg’s legs to put City back ahead after 78 minutes. Five minutes later, Aaron Hughes missed Negredo’s cross and Milner knocked in a fourth.
Fulham remain second from the bottom after their third defeat in four games under Rene Meulensteen, but again they could take credit for their spirit.
“It’s the same story as after the Spurs and Everton games,” Meulensteen said. “I’ve been very positive about the development in and around training ground.
“That’s transpired on the pitch, but it hasn’t produced what we need – which is more points on the board.
“I think we all agree if you look at the performances and our energy, we should never have been in the position that we are and that gives us a lot of encouragement.”
Hart’s return almost went unnoticed among the mayhem, but he was quietly competent, making two fine first-half saves against Taarabt and having little chance with either goal.
“Today he did well,” the City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, said. “We’ll see what happens. It was a tough decision to drop [Costel] Pantilimon because he was doing well.” That, at least, is a positive for City, who otherwise simply played up to the template of the rest of the season.
Going forward they are sensational: an average of three goals a game after 17 matches is extraordinary and, if maintained, would take them to 114 goals for the season, 11 more than the league record set by Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea.
Pellegrini praised his side’s “reaction” to losing their lead and seemed almost to suggest that their fault had been not to convert more of their chances, but at the back, they remain worrisome and shaky.
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