Navas ends Fulham resistance as City banish away-day blues
Fulham 2 Manchester City 4
On a freakishly wet day in August, Arsenal travelled to Craven Cottage in danger of entering a full-blown crisis from which they would never emerge after an opening day defeat. Instead it was a happy day and Arsenal won convincingly and moved away from their problems.
It was more predictably unpleasant on the shortest day of the year yesterday but Fulham were at least able to make things difficult for their opponents, albeit temporarily.
Manchester City's home form has ensured they are not close to a crisis but their away form -- yesterday was only their third league away win of the season -- meant that they could do with the assistance provided by Fulham and for 45 minutes they got it.
Fulham had only won two games at home in the league and at half-time, they were 2-0 down. Thanks in part to a Vincent Kompany own goal in the second half they were level 20 minutes from time but City revealed all their attacking menace and exposed the flaws in a side which remains in the relegation zone.
Jose Mourinho believes Manchester City should be running away with the title and if their away form improves they might yet do that. Their response to Fulham's equaliser suggested that they might now be ready, scoring twice and demonstrating the strength of the squad as well as their power, pace and verve.
If another failure to win away would have led to uncomfortable questions for Manuel Pellegrini, doing so after being two goals up would have been particularly awkward. Instead, in the wind and the rain driving in from the Thames, Pellegrini sent on two substitutes and both Jesus Navas and James Milner scored in the final 12 minutes to guarantee victory.
"We had to score more goals," was Pellegrini's customarily low-key assessment of City's revival after Kompany's own goal but his side are high-energy.
Fulham were without Dimitar Berbatov with a groin strain but they had Adel Taarabt in attack to provide his own kind of presence. In the first half, Taarabt had decided to shoot at every opportunity which allowed those who had decided to analyse every moment of Joe Hart's return to the City side something to do.
Taarabt started early. Gael Clichy began at right-back for City and when he slipped, Kieran Richardson broke forward and played the ball to Taarabt, who took a touch and then hit the ball with his left foot. His shot was deflected closer to Hart, who still did well to tip it away.
In these moments, Fulham were engaged, stretching City and finding space, although mainly for Taarabt to shoot weakly at Hart.
At the back, they were less engaged. Edin Dzeko managed to hold the ball up then win it back before knocking it to David Silva but his shot bounced back off the bar.
Steve Sidwell was expressing himself too, in his case through the medium of fouls and he took Silva out on the edge of the box. City took their time but Yaya Toure made it clear what was going to happen. Fulham could do nothing about it as he curled the free-kick into the top corner.
Fulham had more of the play as Taarabt continued to shoot and Hart continued to save, although only one required much effort.
Defending wasn't really concerning Fulham and sometimes it was too easy. Dzeko should have scored when he had time in the box but his shot was too close to Maarten Stekelenburg. Samir Nasri then picked him out with a sublime ball with the outside of the right foot but Dzeko's header was weak.
City were vulnerable at the back as well, even before their second-half implosion
When Toure and Martin Demichelis made a mess of gathering the ball just inside their half, Taarabt had a clear run on goal. He had choices but his choice was always going to be to shoot and the ball deflected wide for a corner.
Fulham enjoyed their expansive moments when they could express themselves but they were less interested in the ordinary business, which led to City's second. Demichelis was unmarked from a Silva free-kick and his header was saved by Stekelenburg before Kompany poked in the rebound.
Fulham's attitude changed in the second half and within four minutes they had pulled a goal back. Scott Parker robbed Silva and Fulham began a swift counter-attack. Taarabt gathered the ball on the left, glided past Clichy and found the unmarked Richardson, who finished easily.
The home supporters were engaged again but Navas -- on for Dzeko -- should have wrapped up the game but shot wide as the ball broke to him.
Ten minutes later, Fulham were level with a bizarre goal. Sascha Riether got forward and put in a cross. Kompany went to clear it with his left foot but sliced it instead and it spun in at the far post.
City now had the test they might have wanted almost as much as the victory. Fulham's exuberance sent them forward but the problems at the back remained. City's third was impressive as Alvaro Negredo fed Silva, who picked out Navas, whose finish went through Stekelenburg's legs.
Negredo was involved again five minutes later as the game was won. He gathered the ball on the right wing and hit a beautiful cross with the outside of his left foot. Milner was waiting in the box and he swept it in.
At the end Fulham fans applauded the effort from their team. Rene Meulensteen insisted they deserve more for their efforts than a place in the relegation zone. City, he said, would be strong contenders for the title. Both sides felt they had established something in the wind and the rain.