Manchester City 3 Fulham 1: Pearce's knight club puts Fulham defence to the sword

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The Independent Online

There is a thought that 4-5-1 is a defensive formation, but on the evidence of Fulham's performance yesterday, it is nowhere near defensive enough. Even with two full-backs and a returning Papa Bouba Diop in their midfield five, watching them defend in the first half was like watching Laurel and Hardy carry a piano up the stairs: by turns hilarious and excruciating.

Six previous home games this season had brought City just four goals; yesterday for a time it seemed they need only lift the ball into the Fulham half to create a clear opening. The Bernardo Corradi-Georgios Samaras pairing, last seen starting together in the 4-0 humiliation at Wigan, suddenly seemed as potent as Lillee and Thomson in their mid-Seventies pomp. But the City manager Stuart Pearce was realistic enough to not get too carried away by the goal spree.

"There's a lot more to improve," Pearce said. "I'm pleased with the result but disappointed to concede the goal."

Corradi was the main beneficiary of Fulham's laxity, finally getting his first goals for the club on his eighth League start. Perhaps he was slightly fortunate with his second, sliced in from Joey Barton's pass after 32 minutes, but for the quality of his first - a volley with the outside of his right foot from Samaras's flick - he probably deserved that. Equally his long wait for a goal probably excused the exuberant celebrations, pulling the corner-flag from the ground like Excalibur from the stone and using it to knight anybody who came within range.

"When we signed him on the compilation tapes he'd been a bull-fighter, so I was expecting that to come out," said Pearce. "And now he's gone and knighted Joey Barton. If Joey gets a knighthood before me I'm leaving the game."

Corradi's relief, though, could not hide the fact that both goals stemmed from Fulham errors. A long ball from City goalkeeper Nicky Weaver was only half-cleared for the first, and then the American defender Carlos Bocanegra was caught in possession for the second. It was difficult to pinpoint who was at fault for the third, if only because there were so few Fulham players around as the excellent Hatem Trabelsi burst through, and squared for Barton to roll in his third of the season on the stroke of half-time.

"That's our most disappointing 45 minutes of the season," the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, acknowledged. "On our travels this season we've been a lot more together, a lot harder to beat. We're not going to win every game, but you have to lose in a certain manner."

Frustration led to what Coleman described as "heated discussions" in the dressing-room at half-time, an indicator of passion he took as "the only positive".

For most teams a 3-0 lead by the break would be comfortable, but City are City and Pearce was concerned enough by the comparative lack of urgency in the second half to hurl his water-bottle on to the pitch as a Barton free-kick drifted across the face of goal on the hour.

Collins John pulled one back after 62 minutes, neatly lobbing Weaver as Heidar Helguson touched on Diop's long pass, but his anxiety never looked like being justified. City fans have become accustomed this season to anti-climax, but this time the sense of flatness was down entirely to how easy it had been.

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