Bullard's great leveller leaves City frustrated

Fulham 1 Manchester City 1
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The Independent Online

Such is the Premier League's congestion, even mid-table matches are effectively relegation six-pointers. Fulham began this one in the top half, but were only four points clear of the drop zone. City knew that, while a win would take them above Fulham, defeat could leave them in the bottom three by tomorrow night – albeit only after an improbable combination of results elsewhere.

A point apiece was thus not quite enough for either side in a match of two halves – one engaging, one dull. Benjani's early strike sparked the first period into life. The rest of it was dominated by Fulham who were rewarded by a fine goal from Jimmy Bullard. City improved in the second half but, while there were more than 20 attempts at goal, neither side created many clear opportunities.

"There is a fair amount of sadness that we did not win, some praise for the opposition's part in that, and a few positives to be taken," summed up the Fulham manager Roy Hodgson. "What pleased me was we got back on track after a poor start and played some good football."

His City counterpart, Mark Hughes, said: "We are probably a little disappointed. You hope to build on an early lead and at the end, with a bit more care and belief in the final third, we might have got all three points.

"But given the amount of players we have out, I have got to be reasonably happy."

Among those absent was Robinho, not that the visitors seemed affected when, after five minutes, Pablo Zabaleta crossed from the right and Benjani rose between Aaron Hughes and John Pantsil to head in.

Stephen Ireland had a chance to double the lead before Fulham took control. Their equaliser followed a flowing move started and finished by Bullard and involving Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora. Taking the latter's clever pass, Bullard, watched by England manager Fabio Capello, drove powerfully past another international aspirant, Joe Hart.

"I'm sure he will be very happy with his performance, and happy the Englandmanager was here to see it," said Hodgson of Bullard, though he was happiest at his goalscorer's improving defensive discipline.

Dempsey and Zamora went close, Michael Ball cleared Brede Hangeland's header off the line and Bullard tested Hart from long range before City rallied. Zabaleta might then have won it, but was denied by Mark Schwarzer.

Inevitably, attention then turned to City's impending assault on the transfer window. "All the speculation is a little hysterical at the moment," Hughes said. "We are looking to bring quality in and we may have a competitive advantage as I don't think many clubs are looking to spend in the window. But clubs do not have to sell."

He added: "I do not think we are in a relegation dog-fight, we are looking up, not down."

Hodgson was more circumspect: "We are hard to beat and playing some good football, so I can't be other than satisfied, but I am aware all the time how close this League is. Unless you are in the top six you are always close to the relegation zone."

Attendance: 24,012

Referee: Rob Styles

Man of the match: Bullard

Match rating: 7/10

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