City squander two-goal buffer against Fulham

Manchester City 2 Fulham 2
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The Independent Football

The clocks have gone back and so in a small way have Manchester City. This was their third successive draw, and for Mark Hughes, the most frustrating. Clubs with ambitions to follow the course City have charted do not, as a rule, surrender two-goal leads.

There is, however, something about going two goals down at Eastlands that seems to inspire Fulham. Last year, Roy Hodgson's revival of what appeared a doomed club began on an April afternoon when Fulham scored three times in the last 20 minutes to overturn what appeared an inevitable relegation and persuaded Manchester City's then-chairman, Thaksin Shinawatra, that Sven Goran Eriksson's time as manager was up.

The consequences for Hughes will be considerably less drastic – just a feeling that Manchester City ought to be in the top four by now, rather than hovering on its fringes. "At 2-0 to the good, we should have seen the game out comfortably," he reflected.

"We haven't really dealt with balls into our box and the key to it was Damien Duff scoring immediately after our second goal. That gave Fulham the belief to come back. Had we held out for 10-15 minutes, I am sure the game would have petered out."

Most of the petering was done in the first half. Only after the interval, when the cheers for the result at Anfield had drifted away into the autumn downpour – although City's long-term interests may have been best served by a Liverpool defeat – did the game start to sparkle in the rain.

And it was Manchester City who hit their stride first. Joleon Lescott spooned Emmanuel Adebayor's scuffed shot over the line for his first goal for the club, although Hodgson argued forcibly that, in the mêlée that followed Craig Bellamy's corner, referee Kevin Friend missed a glaring offside infringement.

Nevertheless, when Martin Petrov, who has scored in every one of the three starts Hughes has allowed him, met Gareth Barry's return pass and measured his shot beautifully from the edge of the area, that seemed to be that. City looked home.

That, however, was to reckon without Fulham's record against Manchester City. Just as the great Liverpool sides of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley could never seem to beat Leicester, so City habitually stumble when faced with Fulham. Of their last 13 games, only two have been won – and those under the direction of Stuart Pearce, a Manchester City manager whose term of office is now regarded as something of an embarrassment.

The revival was triggered by Duff's crisp edge-of-the-box drive past his fellow Irishman, Shay Given, for the kind of goal he seemed utterly incapable of creating at Newcastle.

Hughes had warned his side about Clint Dempsey's prowess from set pieces, and the manager's apprehension was vindicated when Dempsey rose above Lescott to direct his header into the one area of City's net Given could not cover.

Fulham had enough chances to win, although none was as glaring as Bobby Zamora's before all the scoring started, which, given his record of four goals in 41 league appearances and the quality of his play here, would have stung doubly hard.

Christmas is less than two months away but there is still time for his inability to shoot into an unguarded goal from four yards to make a DVD of football bloopers.

Harry Redknapp used to taunt Darren Bent with the observation that his missus would have put some of Bent's chances away. An exaggeration obviously; but Sandra Redknapp would have scored this one, even in stilettos.

Manchester City: (4-2-3-1) Given; Richards, Touré (Kompany, 90), Lescott, Bridge; De Jong (Ireland, 73), Barry; Bellamy, Tevez, Petrov (Wright-Phillips, 67); Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Johnson, Sylvinho, Weiss.

Fulham: (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Paintsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Kelly; Duff, Greening, Baird, Dempsey; Zamora, Kamara (Seol, 90). Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Nevland, Gera, Riise, Johnson, Smalling.

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

Booked: Fulham Dempsey, Paintsil.

Man of the match: Petrov.

Attendance: 44,906.