Monday 26 February 2018

City's slick machine clicks back into gear

Man City 3 Fulham 0

Manchester City made the best of difficult conditions to keep the pressure on Manchester United when they visit Chelsea this afternoon, brushing off a negligible Fulham challenge to win by three goals and put the same number of points between themselves and their neighbours.

It was not a vintage display but it was never going to be given the wintry weather. City simply needed a convincing win to put their recent setbacks behind them and they easily accomplished that. They might have won by four goals but for a weak finish by Micah Richards late in the game, but the way the City captain muscled an uninterested Moussa Dembele off the ball before setting off on a determined solo run neatly encapsulated the difference in attitudes between the two sides.

City had to turn to the error-prone Stefan Savic in central defence when Vincent Kompany was unable to shake off a knee injury picked up at Everton, though there were plenty of attacking options at the other end with David Silva, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko all in the starting line-up.

The first time City used the full width of their attack they took the lead through a penalty, as Aguero, on the left, found Adam Johnson on the right. The winger went to ground after the merest hint of a tackle from Chris Baird. Referee Mike Dean took his time before deciding contact had been made. Aguero finished with aplomb from the spot.

Simon Davies brought a save from Joe Hart and Damien Duff saw a shot roll past the wrong side of a post by inches, before Baird's day got even worse on the half hour when he deflected a shot from Johnson past his own goalkeeper. Aleksandar Kolarov had crossed from the left for Aguero's flick to find Johnson unmarked at the far post with a clear sight of the target, though his shot was going across the face of goal until it hit Baird and went in.

City could have had another penalty when Dickson Etuhu brought down Silva with a challenge that looked riskier than the one for which Baird was penalised, and a third goal also looked likely when Aguero attempted to launch a quick break from halfway on the stroke of the interval, yet with Dzeko, Silva and Johnson all running into open space in support, he failed to look up in time and ended up overhitting a pass that eluded all of them.

Fulham were the last team to take points off City at home in the league with a 1-1 draw almost a year ago, but by half-time here their only hope appeared to be the worsening weather. The pitch remained playable throughout the second half, although one of the penalty boxes had to be freshly defined with a shovel, but with snow coming down more or less constantly the game was occasionally in danger of disappearing from view.

Senderos was somewhat harshly booked for what was no more than an accidental collision with Kolarov on the edge of the area when players on both sides were finding it difficult to stay on their feet. The defender hurt himself in the process and was unable to challenge Aguero as he set up City's third, skipping into the area from Johnson's pass and squaring the ball to leave Dzeko a chance he could not miss.

Fulham managed to hit a post shortly afterwards but the visitors' luck was out. City's was definitely in. After losing in midweek to a feisty and highly-motivated Everton, they could not have asked for more accommodating opponents. An unmemorable contest long over, the announcement of five minutes added time at least brought one of the best chants of the season. "It's flipping freezing," the crowd sang, almost. "We wanna go home."


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