Football: Brown provides fiery tonic

Manchester City 3 Goater 24, Taylor 32, Horlock 54 Fulham 0 Half- time: 2-0 Attendance: 30,251
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The Independent Online
THEY MAY flatter to deceive yet again, but this was a Manchester City performance that had "turning point" for this season written all over it. Only barely in touch with the leading group in the Second Division headed by yesterday's opponents Fulham, City showed the capacity to make inroads into the gap, especially with the other main promotion contenders, Walsall and Stoke, to follow in the next two matches.

Fulham, not exactly fresh from their midweek victory over Southampton, betrayed the first warning signs that their FA Cup adventures could yet prove a distraction from the main business in hand. After an early flurry, during which the persistent Barry Hayles had a shot saved and Chris Coleman put a header over the bar, Fulham were hardly sighted again until their substitute Paul Peschisolido almost scored with a header in the last minute.

In between, City were resoundingly in command. It was almost as if their ability to get on the wrong side of the referee fired them up, nobody more so than Michael Brown. The midfielder was the first of five home players booked and was then spoken to twice after that. When Brown decided that he had better stay on the pitch, however, he gave the sort of industrious and influential display that the Maine Road faithful hoped to see regularly when he first broke into the first team.

It was Brown's pass to Lee Crooks that started the move for the first goal, Crooks' cross finding the head of Shaun Goater for the Bermudan's first League goal since October. Both Goater and striking partner Gareth Taylor had chances, before Taylor broke Fulham's increasingly rickety offside trap for the second goal.

City made certain of progress towards the play-off positions when Brown was fouled, right on the edge of the penalty area, nine minutes into the second half. When the wall was finally dragged into position, Kevin Horlock drove his free-kick straight through it for the third City goal.

Fulham could easily have conceded more and their lack of attacking bite persuaded Kevin Keegan to make a triple substitution for the last 20 minutes. It looked dramatic, but made little difference to what was already a lost cause.

"We had a good night on Wednesday and we had a chance to round off a super week, but we weren't up to it," Keegan said. "They had more commitment than us today."

The City manager, Joe Royle, admitted: "It was a good time to play them, but we've played our best against the top sides in the division. There's been so many false dawns at City, but who knows?"