Hard to judge games like these. On the one hand, it felt like we did enough to earn a point. On the other, City waltzed into a 2-0 lead and then sat on it, so anything we did from then was perhaps misleading. A late Danny Murphy penalty certainly made it interesting, but too little, too late, etc.
Fulham nearly scored in the second minute, a Zoltan Gera effort looked to be on its way in when someone in black intervened. Unfortunately City went all the way up the other end and scored, a mess of a goal that involved the ball striking the post, Mark Schwarzer waving his arms around on the floor, and a close range Roque Santa Cruz finish to end the mayhem. For such a sound defensive side we haven’t half conceded some weird goals this season.
City made it two when Bellamy slipped in Tevez, whose finish had an air of 5-a-side about it as he jinked in, out, left people on the floor, then smashed home long past the point when we had all accepted the inevitability of it all. His call to Bellamy in the buildup was audible in the stands. Some player.
Fulham, by contrast, were having a collective meltdown. Every pass was half a yard off, every loose ball half a yard too far away, every Patrick Viera indescretion applauded by the referee* (*not applauded, then, but he did seem to have some degree of immunity out there: “Don’t forearm smash people in the head again, Patrick! I won’t warn you again!” etc. Great).
It made for a very untidy game. Roberto Mancini had cleverly played with two out and out wingers pushed up into a line of four forwards, which meant that our own full-backs did not join attacks as they usually do, which meant that we seemed bent on trying to work the ball through Barry/Viera/Toure/Kompany in the middle, which didn’t go well. The latter, it must be said, handled Zamora as well as anyone in recent memory.
On it went. The half-time whistle was a huge relief, but not much changed after the break. Hodgson introduced Dempsey for Zamora, and things started to brighten up, but did Shay Given have a save to make? Stefano Okaka got a rare run-out as well, and he and Dempsey gradually began to assert themselves on the City defence. Duff, as he usually does, grew as the game developed, and with Etuhu in magnificent form in the middle (our man of the match by a distance, I thought), it became one way traffic, albeit very busy, rush-hour traffic.
Out of the blue a penalty appeared, a very soft hand-ball award (soft in that the offence seemed so needless), and Murphy slotted home confidently. This put the frighteners on City, who resorted to all kinds of underhand tricks to waste time (how was there only 4 minutes injury time? Six subs, various temporary medical emergencies while City players dusted themselves down… 7 minutes minimum, I thought). Fulham probed further, and finally, finally, a clever passing move released Okaka, who, clean through, didn’t score. This came as some surprise: everything about the move and Okaka’s run suggested that a goal was being made, but no, the ball ended up behind rather than in the net.
That was about that. Dempsey hit a couple of Ronaldo style free-kicks straight into the wall, and even Chris Smalling had a go up front, but ultimately it didn’t matter. A 2-1 defeat to a side that looks to be moving in the right direction. And in a bigger sense, it really didn’t matter. We have bigger fish to fry on Wednesday, after all.