If Fulham's revival in this match was unexpected, Roberto Mancini's explanation for it beggared belief. "We are short of players," said the manager of a club which has spent £300m on them in the last three years. He added: "Fulham were able to make changes after playing in Europe, we were not. We became tired."
Fulham, who played in the Europa League on Thursday, changed their full-backs, winger, and centre-forward. City, who played in the Champions League on Wednesday, changed their full-backs. City also left Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Kolo Touré and Adam Johnson on the bench.
Mancini was talking specifically about midfielders. With James Milner and Nigel de Jong injured, he said he "lacked resources", but it was hardly surprising that when this lament was put to Martin Jol, the Fulham manager first looked bemused, then laughed. His leading midfield cover was the 19-year-old Swiss Pajtim Kasami, a summer signing. "I think some of the players they have signed, like Sergio Aguero, have a little bit more than the young ones we signed," he said.
Aguero scored twice yesterday taking his tally to eight goals in his first five Premier League appearances. This, somewhat improbably, matches a record created by Micky Quinn with Coventry in 1992. The second goal came ten seconds into the second period without a Fulham player touching the ball. As it followed a first-half completely controlled by City their victory seemed as inevitable as the continued flowing of the Thames alongside.
But the old cliché about goals changing matches has rarely been as pertinent. Four minutes before the hour Moussa Dembélé, excellent in a withdrawn role behind Bobby Zamora, found Clint Dempsey lurking around the box. With Micah Richards ball-watching, the Texan was able to pick out an unmarked Zamora who turned to score.
"We were a bit tired but the goal gave us belief," said Jol. Fulham, who until then had been so fearful of committing players forward it seemed their main aim was to avoid the thrashing Tottenham received on City's last visit to the capital, suddenly flooded forward, infused with confidence. Mancini brought on Pablo Zabaleta to stiffen central midfield, switching from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, but it was to no avail. Though Joe Hart made good saves from Dempsey's header and Dembélé's shot, he was helpless when a strike from Danny Murphy, set up by Dembélé and Kasami, was deflected past him off Vincent Kompany. Manicini complained, with some justification, that Stephen Kelly had fouled Edin Dzeko in the build-up, but the goal had been coming.
On the Hammersmith End the jubilant Fulham fans performed the Poznan, City's adopted goal celebration. At the other end City's support appeared neither flattered nor outraged; they were probably still trying to understand how they had let the game slip.
"I am disappointed," said Mancini, who allowed Carlos Tevez eight ineffective minutes at the end. "It is a lesson for us. To run a game like we did today for 60 minutes and score only two goals was the problem. When you have the chance to score you need to score. Maybe we lack the killer mentality to kill games off."
Manicini was equally unimpressed with the collective defending. "All the players need to defend," he said. "To defend with five or six players is not good enough."
Defending had not seemed relevant earlier, with City cruising through the game as if enjoying a stroll through the adjacent Bishops Park. Enjoying almost total dominance of possession they moved their opponents around, stylishly probing until, in the 18th minute, a gap appeared.
Gareth Barry, collecting a clearance from Brede Hangeland, played an angled, disguised pass to David Silva. He slipped a pass behind the back four for Aguero to run on to and finish clinically. With the naked eye the Argentine looked as if he was probably offside, but there was a large slice of doubt and forwards are supposed to get the benefit of any that exists. "I might have complained if we had lost," said Jol. What is certain is that Aguero's ability to make darting runs off the back of defenders, and the clever passing of Silva and Samir Nasri, are going to cause linesmen and defenders problems this season.
Ten minutes later it was Silva sidling behind his marker's vision and on to a pass from Yaya Touré. The Canary Islander laid it back to Dzeko whose shot was brilliantly turned over by Schwarzer. So confident were City at this stage that Barry was shooting with his right foot and even Gaël Clichy was having a pop from long range.
At the break Jol told his team to be more aggressive and try and push on. Ten seconds later it seemed he had been wasting his breath. The re-start was laid back to Clichy who hit a long pass to Dzeko. The Bosnian headed down to Aguero who drove in from outside the box.
Fulham are now 18th, still in the relegation zone, but buoyed with belief after having a team like City on the rack. City are now two points adrift of neighbours United and no longer in possession of a 100 per cent record. While United have had enough torrid visits to Craven Cottage for Fulham's club shop to sell a selection of videos reliving their torments, this result was against a Fulham side which had been struggling for confidence and goals.
In isolation it does not raise too many questions about City's title credentials, but given Bolton almost achieved a similar comeback last month Mancini will be concerned about a repeat. He will have noted that City's other five Champions League group matches are also followed by away games.
Substitutes: Fulham Kasami 7 (Duff, 61), Ruiz (Dembele, 87). Man City Zabaleta 5 (Silva, 69), Johnson (Nasri , 80), Tevez (Aguero, 83).
Booked: Fulham Sidwell. Man City Barry.
Man of the match Dembélé.
Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Attendance 24,750.Reuse content