Hart returns to leading role with on-song City growing in confidence
Fulham 2 Manchester City 4
Of all the characters in football's cast, few have a lonelier, less fulfilling existence than the reserve goalkeeper. They turn up for training, prepare themselves thoroughly, only to spend endless Saturdays staring blankly into the distance. Reserve goalkeepers are the roadies of football: always on tour, never on stage.
The most prolific No 13s eventually pass into legend. Richard Wright, once England's most promising young goalkeeper and now City's third choice, has played three games in four years. Norwich City's Carlo Nash is also able to call himself a Premier League footballer, and yet has not played a league game since -- wait for it -- May 2008. Nash is essentially the Premier League's most dedicated spectator.
Nobody seriously thought that would happen to Joe Hart. But for any goalkeeper, even England's No 1, being dropped is an indefinite fate. Which is why his return here, two months after being left out in favour of Costel Pantillimon, was such an important moment.
He was responsible for neither Fulham goal, and made a number of good saves. He was much quieter than usual, less inclined to harangue his defence, or himself.
As a team, City are beginning to purr. This was a much more dominant display than it looked, proving again that when they are on song, City score pretty much whenever they want. A less assured team might have wavered when Fulham wiped out their two-goal lead with a classic breakaway burglary and a freak own-goal from Vincent Kompany. Instead, they simply went down the other end and scored two more. Substitutes Jesus Navas and James Milner made the win secure, underlining City's strength in depth.
"We are full of confidence," Navas said. "If you want to win the Premier League, you have to win at places like this. We are scoring a lot of goals. Even when Fulham scored, we still felt very confident."
Two of the season's outstanding performers also had fine games. Yaya Toure opened the scoring with a sublime free-kick, while Alvaro Negredo's cross for Milner's goal, a pinpoint ball with the outside of his left foot, was a thing of beauty.
Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen has begun talks with owner Shahid Khan over possible January transfer targets. One player close to agreeing a deal is former midfielder Clint Dempsey, who was at the game on Saturday ahead of a likely loan move from Seattle Sounders. (© Daily Telegraph, London)