Premier League - Manchester City ease to win against Fulham
Manchester City moved back on track in their Premier League title hunt with a 3-0 win at home to Fulham at a snowy Eastlands.
The league leaders, stunned 1-0 at Everton last time out, overcame the poor conditions with a Sergio Aguero penalty, Chris Baird own-goal and Edin Dzeko strike to open up a three-point, nine-goal gap on second-placed Manchester United, who visit Chelsea on Sunday.
City controlled the game, dominating possession and pegging Fulham back into their own half for large swathes of the first half.
However, the Premier League leaders seemed a touch static when reaching the final third, with the exception of Adam Johnson, a livewire on the right, although he faded in the second half.
And the two first-half goals they did score resulted from work by the former Middlesbrough winger, although they will not enter his portfolio of top moments.
Johnson had already started his tumble though, wrapping his own leg around Baird’s almost as an afterthought: it happened in an instant, Mike Dean convinced enough to point to the spot while the replays suggested gamesmanship from Johnson.
Aguero stood up for the spot-kick and, dubious as the award was, his finish was superb, high and mighty into the top right, his 15th in the league this season.
Within 10 minutes Johnson took another tumble in the box, but this time Dean did not buy his aquatic antics, waving play on with Baird relieved.
It would not be Baird’s day though as, on the half-hour mark, he scored an unfortunate own-goal.
Johnson was involved once again but, crafty as his earlier intervention was, this one was all down to his poor shooting, an effort going nowhere near goal before taking a wild deflection off the Northern Irishman to leave the returning Mark Schwarzer helpless.
While the first penalty incident was debatable City, at 2-0, should have had another, with Dickson Etuhu fortunate to escape after rattling into David Silva from behind.
That evoked some kind of response from Fulham, who had been drearily negative prior to their best spell leading into the break.
After Philippe Senderos almost scored another own-goal when deflecting Micah Richards’s cross into Schwarzer’s arms. Damien Duff had a couple of efforts wide while Simon Davies forced a straightforward save from Joe Hart after some cute build-up play.
But with Fulham coming forward more City were even more dangerous as it played to their preferred counter-attack, with Schwarzer saving well from Aguero and Dzeko denied by a Brede Hangeland block.
The second half was a difficult affair as the snow thickened both on the pitch and in the air: it was causing problems, Hart struggling to hold on to daisy-cutters from Stephen Kelly and Baird, while referee Dean made a clear mistake by booking Senderos when Aleksandr Kolarov went in late on the Swiss, and not vice versa, the former Arsenal defender getting the ball first and an injury in the 50-50.
Meanwhile the conditions worsened, the groundsmen rushing on to shovel snow from the lines as the pitch whitened as the game got ragged.
However, the third goal - on 72 minutes - was a work of brilliance, as a mesmerising solo run from Aguero was capped off by a cut-back that Dzeko gobbled up with a low finish.
It was a touch harsh on Fulham as they had done better in the second half, indeed hitting the post through Dempsey while John-Arne Riise forced a smart stop from Hart.
But City had some chances late on, Richards bounding forward after a ‘steal’ off Moussa Dembele but putting his shot wide, while no-one was able to finish a superb cut-back from Kolarov in the dying seconds.
There were some handbags too, as Dembele and Kolarov escaped with bookings after going tete-a-tete over a petty foul by the Serb.
So the win was ultimately deserved but the margin of victory somewhat flattering for City, who will hope that Chelsea do them a favour at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.