While the fans were expecting City to smack Fulham away, right away, Fulham’s early defensive tactics revealed this would be no easy match. Mark Hughes made the smart move beforehand, swapping Zabaleta for Richards, showing that he preferred Zabaleta’s solid defending to Richards’ drive in attack.
The score line would suggest a City team far from sharp, but they pushed forward despite a packed defence and managed 11 shots (6 on target) by the end of the half. ‘One way traffic’ was the by-line for 35 minutes, with opportunities for De Jong,
Tevez, Barry, Zabaleta and Wright-Phillips to take a lead. Fulham looked very unlikely to do anything nor motivated to do anything, until the 35th minute when Zoltan Gera had a moment and fired a 25-yard strike, delighting the few Fulham fans who travelled to Manchester.
The first half ended uneventfully, with Fulham keeper David Stockdale untroubled by efforts from Tevez, Zabaleta, and Wright-Phillips.
City began the second half positively, and looked close to making something happening repeatedly in and around the Fulham penalty area. The dogged attacking finally paid off with a free Barry headed goal after Stockdale whiffed at a corner won and taken by Bellamy.
The goal rejuvenated City’s spirits, and they took more assured control of possession, continuing to press well, and Bellamy nearly made it 2-1 after a Zabaleta cross.
Fulham could not cope with the Blues on the wings, especially Bellamy who continued his crowd-pleasing form from the derby, and only crucial interceptions in the box prevented City from pouring in the goals. The right side of the City offence clicked as well and a slick build-up allowed Zabaleta an opportunity to take the lead, but only was able to win a corner.
Fulham for seemingly the first time in the half had a minor spell of possession, but it only amounted to a City counter-attack and corner at the other end after a Barry shot was deflected out of play.
The managers began to make changes, with Petrov coming in for a less-than-impressive Ireland for City and Kagisho Dikgacoi coming in for Fulham captain Simon Davies, evidence that Fulham’s kit man is among the best spellers in the business. De Jong, again reminding of Daniele de Rossi, took on a knock but was soon back to his tackling best.
A brief spell of danger from Fulham, capped by a save from Shay Given from Ki-Hyeon Seol, gave way quickly again to City possession and runs from Petrov. A foul gave Fulham a free-kick opportunity but again amounted to naught but more City attacks hindered by a Fulham team defending for a draw.
The Cottagers indeed had a few spots to get the lead but much of what they did ran into the brick wall that was De Jong, and in truth they looked more worried about conceding on the counter than going ahead. City wanted to get a late goal, to win before extra time, and won two corners, but could not find a goal.
Bjorn Helge Riise almost put Fulham ahead in the 109th minute, his angled drive going narrowly past the post, but two minutes later Toure scored the winner when he got on the end of a corner from Martin Petrov to head the ball powerfully into the net.
Nigel de Jong
Match Stats can be found here.