Verdict: Manchester City 2 Fulham 2
Goals: Lescott 53, Petrov 60 for City. Duff 62, Dempsey 68 for Fulham.
Memories of Sven’s last home match came flooding back as City once again let slip a two goal lead against Roy Hodgson’s Fulham. Second half goals from Joleon Lescott and Martin Petrov gave City the advantage, but a failure to heed earlier warnings saw them pegged back for a third consecutive draw.
Kolo Toure and Craig Bellamy returned to the starting line-up as expected. Ireland remained as sub while the big decision by Hughes was ‘rotating’ Wright-Phillips onto the bench. Bellamy played on the right, while Petrov held onto the coveted left wing position.
Breaking down Fulham was never likely to be easy, and the end product from Wright-Phillips has often not been there this season. Petrov and Bellamy on the other hand have both looked dangerous, and have a real goal threat. The selection was justified.
City started reasonably well with Petrov and Bellamy regularly switching flanks. Neither were looking entirely happy on the right, but both did enough to justify their places. Tevez was also buzzing around, regularly pulling out to the right as well.
As expected, Fulham were disciplined and clear-cut chances were proving hard to come by when all of a sudden Kamara found himself clean through. He seemed as surprised as the rest of us not to be flagged offside and a terrible touch allowed Given to come out and take the ball.
City responded and started to create chances. Adebayor seemed set to burst through, but took the ball wide and went down under pressure from the closing defenders. The Togolese was convinced of a penalty. The referee and his assistant weren’t.
We were again looking dangerous from set-pieces as Kolo Toure headed a Petrov corner over. A free-kick deflected into the path of Nigel de Jong, who struck a snap shot which Mark Schwarzer saved well.
Tevez flashed a header from a corner just over before City finally appeared to have broken the deadlock. Another Petrov corner was headed home by Micah Richards, only for the referee to disallow it. It was the second time this season Micah had been denied a goal for a supposed offence by Barry that only the officials felt worthy of punishing.
At the beginning of the second half, City were given a huge let-off when Zamora missed an open goal following a Given parry of a shot by Dempsey. To concede the first goal to an already obdurate Fulham would have given City a mountain to climb.
Thankfully, set piece City were soon to strike. A Craig Bellamy corner was knocked down by Barry for Adebayor to scuff a shot goalwards. Lescott helped it over the line for his first City goal – despite Adebayor’s celebrations for the strike.
City were now playing with confidence and a Petrov one-two with Barry saw the Bulgarian take the ball into the box before striking the ball into the net with his left foot. Fulham were shaken and City briefly looked to be buzzing.
As with the Sven game, it was then surprising to see Fulham get a goal back. A cross from Hunt was chested down by Zamora to Duff, who got his shot away just before being closed down by Bridge. In keeping his shot low, the Irish winger evaded the block and Given would have only seen it late.
City lost some of their confidence but were still looking ok. That was until an innocuous looking free-kick was conceded just inside City’s half and play was stopped while Petrov received treatment for a knee injury.
If seeing Petrov going off wasn’t dispiriting enough, what followed was to complete the downward turn in our fortunes. The free-kick was floated into our box and Clint Dempsey beat Lescott to the header which bounced gently into the corner of the net, beyond the reach of Given.
It felt like a soft, soft goal and Dempsey isn’t the kind of player who should be beating our biggest centre-half, regardless of Lescott’s fee. The day had come full circle for Joleon following his earlier goal.
In an attempt to regain the initiative, Hughes threw on Ireland in place of de Jong. Unfortunately he failed to get into the game. Having come on for Petrov, Shaun Wright-Phillips looked to have got the message about being rotated and looked lively. It was good to see him looking dangerous again.
Unfortunately the rest of the side seemed short of ideas on how to regain the lead. Fulham also sensed the chance of an unlikely victory, but despite 5 minutes of extra-time, neither side could add to their tally.
“It was disappointing because we put ourselves in a winning position and weren’t able to see the game out.
“We need to do better in terms of our positioning in defence. We’ve been caught out a couple of times like that this season.
“We started this season really well in terms of our defensive work but now we’re conceding goals, so we have to work hard on that.”
“We are all professionals and can take criticism. No one was pointing the finger at me in the dressing room but I point the finger at myself because I know I can do better.”
All the talk of ‘winning mentalities’ from Hughes and the new signings was looking a bit empty by full-time. It seems to be the fashionable phrase these days, but maybe we could give it a rest until we’ve actually won something.
With United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Villa all dropping points as well this weekend, the damage of a draw may not be lasting. However we still dropped another place in the table and the feeling remains that this was an opportunity missed. Until the defence tightens up, this team will continue to miss out on a top four place.
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