Carling Cup verdict: City 2 Fulham 1 (aet)
Set piece City strike again! Despite a laboured performance, two headed goals from corners by Gareth Barry and Kolo Toure respectively, were enough to see off a well organised second-string Fulham side.
Following the high octane games against Arsenal and United, this was a gentler affair as was widely predicted. They’ll be no need for the FA to look again at any incidents in this match, although Zoltan Gera’s stunning strike to give Fulham the lead was perhaps worthy of a bigger fixture.
City will be grateful to come through without controversy. Toure’s first goal for the club came within an official 30 minutes of extra time, unlike a certain strike last Sunday.
Mark Hughes named the same side as against United, with the exception of Zabaleta who came in for Richards (sore shoulder allegedly). Whilst making wholesale changes to the first choice eleven is considered a gamble, playing the same team as at the weekend could also be considered a risk. Tired legs and a lack of focus could come into play, and that looked the case here.
Carlos Tevez was once again asked to fill what looked like a giant Adebayor shaped hole in our attack.
There was a distinct lack of zip in the first half, and tiredness seemed to set in before extra time. The introductions of Petrov and Weiss both perked the team up, and the case for these players having started along with Sylvinho remains valid. It’s worth noting that the only time Hughes did make changes was when Ireland and de Jong were injured.
City started the game with a decent amout of possession but the ball was spending to much time being knocked between the defenders. Fulham may have played a second choice team, but they had all the Hodgson hallmarks of discipline and organisation. City lacked a focal point up front and struggled to create any meaningful openings. A move down the right flank featuring some one touch passing with Tevez at the heart showed the way, but it wasn’t maintained.
After 37 minutes, Fulham broke forward and the ball came to Gera, fully thirty yards out. He struck it first time and the ball arrowed in past a despairing Given. It would be harsh to blame the defence for such a goal as there wasn’t time to close the Hungarian down.
City’s frustration continued to half-time and beyond. Tevez worked himself a couple of openings on the edge of the area but hadn’t brought his shooting boots, sending each shot trickling through to the keeper.
We kept plugging away amid murmurs of frustration, and eventually a Bellamy corner was missed by Stockdale in the Fulham goal. Barry had the relatively simple task of nodding the ball home.
City went on to enjoy their best spell, finally showing some of the team-play and movement required to keep the opposition pinned back. It was the kind of football we need to produce if we’re to properly dominate teams and force results. United gave us an example of it on Sunday, and Hughes and his coaching staff need to get City displaying it more often. We do have the players now.
This time we weren’t able to sustain it for long enough. Ireland went off looking dazed, and he’d had one of those nights where he seemed to lack a degree of awareness throughout. If he’s to play in the ‘number 10’ role behind Tevez, there needs to be a better understanding between the two of them. Lofting balls over the top for the Argentine isn’t going to work as he doesn’t have the pace to get away from defenders.
Petrov arrived to a cheer and Bellamy moved in to the centre to give Tevez some much needed support. The Bulgarian provided a series of crosses which either Adebayor or Santa Cruz might have gobbled up. When it became apparent that Bellamy and Tevez weren’t going to reach them, the game slipped back to it’s earlier level.
City looked tired and there were fears among the crowd as to whether we’d have the energy to survive extra time. The introduction of Weiss provided a helpful spark for the additional period. Wright-Phillips, who had been looking exhausted, appeared to get a second wind when moving in-field to replace de Jong. His ability on the ball kept him out of trouble on several occasions and we held our own.
A goal for either side was still looking elusive when another corner enabled Toure to pop up at the far post and nod in via the keeper.
City played out the remaining few minutes intelligently and we were all thankful for a lack of drama. One minute was indicated by the fourth official and one minute was played. It’s a lot simpler when it’s like that.
“In the early part of last year we did not look a threat from set-plays. In games so far we look like a team that can now.
“We have told the players where we want the ball delivered and how they need to be a bit more dynamic in the box and make sure they get first contact.
“Fulham are very well organised and got plenty of people behind the ball. It was difficult to break them down. We had to be patient.
“We stuck at it and are in the hat for the next round which was the order of the day. We are pleased about that.”
“My first job is to defend but if I manage to score and help my strikers, I will be very happy.
“Fulham played well, and scored an amazing goal, but we showed that this team has the guts to come back after going down.”