If ever there was a game City needed to win to prove the doubters wrong and get their season back on track today was the day, as City met Fulham at Craven Cottage. City were unbeaten in their last six Premier League games against Fulham, whilst the home side had won ten of their last thirteen at the Cottage.
Only three players survived the debacle against Aston Villa as Mancini rang the changes and the team sheet read as follows; Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy, Barry, Garcia, Yaya, Silva, Tevez and Aguero. The bench consisted of; Pantilimon, Lescott, Milner, Nasri, Dzeko, Kolarov and Balotelli. A classy bench for City and a line-up that would allow Yaya to play further forward.
The game kicked off and City were instantly into their stride quickly pressing the ball and forcing the play in and around the Fulham box with the home side seemingly content to play on the counter. One such counter in the fifth minute as Duff beat Clichy and put in a dangerous cross which came to nothing.
By the seventh minute City were attacking again this time in the shape of Aguero but his pass to Barry was too hard. City were playing a slightly dangerous game as both full backs were pushing up together leaving City prone to the counter.
In the tenth minute Riise had pushed forward for Fulham and as he tried to go past Zabaleta just outside the City box, the Blues fullback brushed the shirt of his Fulham counterpart and Riise went down like a sack of spuds. Halsey bought the dive hook line and sinker and even deemed it to have taken place inside the box. A penalty to Fulham which Petric despatched with aplomb, sending Hart the wrong way. Terrible refereeing from a terrible referee but the score stood. One nil to the home side looking for their best ever start to a Premier League season.
The Blues seemed to take the poor decision to heart and their play slowed down a notch allowing the home side to begin pressing and applying pressure. In the fourteenth minute Rodellega played a slide rule pass through to Petric but the Fulham striker blazed his shot over the bar.
Five minutes later and City were pressing again. Tevez received the ball just outside the Fulham box on the City right. He jinked past one play and was going round Riise when a cleverly placed pull brought Tevez down. It looked nailed on but Halsey shook his head and waved play on. This ref was showing himself to be a joke as attack after City attack were ended with niggly fouls.
City again looked lacklustre and were finding difficulty in breaking down the crowded defence that Fulham offered. In the twenty fifth minute Tevez dragging his team mates up with his never say die attitude found Zabaleta on the right but the right back`s cross was gathered by Schwarzer.
Just before the half hour mark Fulham were awarded a free kick just on the edge of the City box as Kompany felled Rodellega. The shot from Riise was easily dealt with by Hart.
City were awarded their first corner in the twenty ninth minute. Silva stepped up to cross the ball in. It was headed on and met by the head of Aguero at the far post but the striker could only find the side netting.
A minute later and another penalty claim was turned down as again Riise pulled Tevez`s shirt in the box as the City striker looked to be through for a shooting opportunity. This one looked the most nailed on of any today, but again Halsey was unwilling to award the spot kick to City. Terrible decision making once again as he proved that ref`s truly do change games.
The Blues took this final mistake by the ref in a better fashion and appeared more determined as Silva and Aguero began to tackle back and give the team more impetus.
First Clichy had a great shot in the thirty third minute. Then after Kompany had been booked for a foul on Petric, City won the ball and retained it playing it around as if they were three up. Fulham dropped deeper and deeper and in the thirty eight minute Tevez shot was only stopped just on the line after a mad scramble by the Fulham keeper.
A minute later and Schwarzer was Fulham`s saviour again as the ball somehow stayed out of the Fulham goal.
With two minutes of the forty five left City levelled the score after Schwarzer had kept out a deflect shot by Silva, Aguero was on hand to finish up and level the game for his team.
City finished the half on top as Fulham sat deeper and deeper often with ten men lining the edge of their box. Had it not been for the awful, woeful and simply terrible decisions by Halsey, City could have been two or three up, however the half finished one apiece despite City`s domination.
The second half started as the first half ended with City firmly in control of the game pressing and probing and forcing Fulham deeper and deeper into their own half and one free kick aside in the forty ninth minute, the first ten minutes were all City.
In the sixtieth minute Zabaleta again crossed into the Fulham box, this time the ball was met by the head of Aguero but the ball went just wide.
The game saw wave after wave of City attacks as the Fulham team and especially Sidwell were demonstrating how to carry out a rear guard action!
Zabaleta had a great shot as he cut in from the right in the sixty fifth minute and then followed to substitutions as Fulham sent on Kacaniklic for Petric and City replaced Tevez with Balotelli.
Balotelli was instantly into the game and found himself in a pocket of space on the edge of the Fulham box and he unleashed a powerful shot which beat Schwarzer but also the Fulham post.
Fulham`s first shot of the half came in the seventy first minute as they broke with pace have soaked up twenty five minutes of pressure, Hart made an outstanding save as Ruiz pivoted inside the City box and drilled a ferocious strike at the City goal.
Mancini soon sent on his next sub as Nasri entered the fray to replace Barry as the wily Italian bolstered his attack looking for the win his side sorely needed.
Nasri got stuck in straight away winning the ball and playing in Balotelli. The Italian was involved again in the seventy ninth minute as Silva found him in a great position. The misunderstood striker turned on a six pence smashing the ball toward goal, but his shot was once again wide.
Fulham then replaced one of their enforcers, Baird and replaced him with Greek International Karagounis. The Fulham sub had an immediate impact on the game giving away a City free kick thirty yards out from goal on the City left. Balotelli stood over the ball shaping to shoot. His shot was struck well enough but didn`t have enough height to clear the defensive wall.
Mancini then made his last change taking City`s final defensive midfielder Garcia off and replacing him with Dzeko. With three minutes to go the lanky Bosnian showed what an impact player he could be. As Clichy swang in a left wing cross, Balotelli charged in meeting the ball with a powerful header. The ball was blocked by a Fulham player and fell to Dzeko who seemed to change his body positioning impossibly quickly and smashed the ball into the Fulham net past the despairing Schwarzer. Two one to City and deservedly so having played the entire second forty five in the Fulham half.
With three minutes of injury time to play, The Blues almost made it three as Aguero was put through, but his shot from the edge of the box whistled just wide of the post.
So that was it, City stretched their run against Fulham and gained three crucially needed points. In truth it could have been more as Fulham forgot to counter attack in the second half and looked ready to settle for a share of the spoils. Not Mancini who through everything but the kitchen sink at Fulham and with his last cast of the die and the introduction of Dzeko, sealed the win for his team.
Hart – 8
Didn’t have much to do but made two excellent saves and could do nothing about a well struck penalty.
Zabaleta – 9
An outstanding performance and in no way to blame for the Fulham penalty (see Mark Halsey). Ran his heart out and must have covered more grass than anyone on the pitch.
Kompany – 7
Got booked and still doesn’t look as comfortable as he did last season.
Nastasic – 7
Didn’t put a foot wrong and showed he can pass as well today.
Clichy – 8
A good display from the attacking full back. Got in some good crosses and had a great shot.
Barry – 8
Made the defence look more solid today. Does the dirty work no one else wants to and make City a stronger unit.
Garcia – 7
Looked better today and didn’t get booked. Still looks a bit shocked by the pace of the English game.
Yaya – 7
Played further forward today and looks impossible to get off the ball. Has difficulty in changing pace though.
Silva – 8
A much improved performance from David today. His distribution was far better and after twenty minutes actually did some tackling and defending.
Tevez – 7
A good game and found himself in position to shoot but clearly left the shooting boots at home.
Aguero – 7
Could have had a hat trick today but again didn’t have his shooting boots (or head) on today.
Balotelli – 7
Added some strength up front and had a couple of good shots.
Nasri – 7
Added some forward passing and movement to create space for the forwards.
Only had a few minutes on the pitch but made a telling contribution with the winning goal.
Mancini – 8
Won the game with his masterful introduction of Dzeko. Still doesn’t seem to know his best team, but a good and needed win today.
Ref Watch – Mark Halsey
Made three diabolical game changing errors all involving penalties and allowed Fulham to get away with a lot of niggly fouls when City were camped in their half. A bit of a joke of a ref.