English Premier League
Saturday 4 February 2012, 17.30 KO
City: Hart, Richards (c), Savic, Lescott, Kolarov, Barry, Nasri (Milner 55), A Johnson (Pizarro 90), Silva, Aguero (de Jong 80), Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Clichy, Rekik
Goals: Aguero (pen 11), Baird (og 31), Dzeko (72)
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the Match: Adam Johnson
It was the home side who got off to the better start, controlling the ball and looking for the early opening. It almost came as Aguero found a neat ball through for Dzeko, but the big centre-forward couldn’t find the net from just inside the area. And, as City dominated possession, they earned their breakthrough: Johnson was tripped in the box by Baird and Aguero slotted the penalty home.
If the Fulham fans were hoping that the goal might have woken their side up, they would have been bitterly disappointed, as, from the restart, the game carried on in much the same vein. Johnson appeared to be tripped in the box once again, but this time the referee wasn’t interested and pointed for a goal kick. Davies had a go at City’s goal, but his effort was weak and straight at Hart, before Silva curled a shot past Schwarzer’s far post.
Johnson tricked his way inside from the right flank and looked to curl a shot inside the far post, but it was just wide again, before Duff hit an effort at Hart’s goal, but the England keeper didn’t need to make a save. It was an isolated attack from the visitors, but, at just one goal behind, the visitors were always in the game.
However, just after the half hour, Baird’s evening got worse. A Kolarov cross missed everybody in the box, but it was rescued by Johnson on the right flank. He crossed the ball back with pace and it hit the Fulham defender on the knee, leaving Schwarzer stranded and City two goals in front. The home side could have had another penalty almost immediately, as it looked like Silva was felled in the box by Etuhu, but, again, the referee played on.
A sweeping City move on the break from a Fulham corner almost made it three: Aguero got his shot in, but Schwarzer parried and Johnson was offside from the rebound. It then took Hangeland’s toe to prevent a Dzeko effort troubling the goalkeeper, as City did the same again with a swift move from the back.
Fulham came out fighting for the second half and were on top for the opening ten minutes. Despite their pressure, though, they weren’t able trouble Joe Hart. To get more of the ball for his side, Roberto Mancini introduced Milner to the game and, as the snow began to fall heavily, the hosts wrestled control back, just after the first of the two stoppages while the groundsmen cleared the markings on the pitch.
Hart held on to a Murphy free kick, as the ball skipped through his wall, before Kolarov clipped a similar free kick over the bar at the other end. Silva almost made it three, but his close range effort was blocked and City couldn’t force the ball over the line, as the visitors hung on.
But their resistance was soon broken: Aguero carried the ball into the box and looked like he was going to fire a shot at goal. Before he pulled the trigger, though, he slide it to his right for the waiting Edin Dzeko, who made no mistake in finding the back of the net. The game was beyond doubt and City were well in control.
A deflection inside the City box could have given the visitors a consolation goal, but the ricochet bounced off the post and Richards was able to smash the ball clear. The full-back then stole the ball in the centre of the pitch and ran at Hangeland. He tried to take it around the Fulham centre-back, but his shot dribbled wide of the post. The final action of the game saw Hart make a great save from Riise to preserve the clean sheet.
City had opened up a gap at the top of the table once again and would be watching Sunday’s games with great interest.