A draw and honours even, with Paolo Wanchope's late, late header denying Chris Coleman a third victory over former England managers. Having prevailed against Sir Bobby Robson (last season) and Glenn Hoddle (this), it appeared that the Welshman's managerial career was not just burgeoning but bludgeoning.
Last season the underachieving fancy-dan players of Fulham were stuffed and staid on foie gras - now Coleman is feeding them raw meat. "This Fulham side are playing for him," was the verdict of Kevin Keegan, who, of course, brought Coleman to the club as a player. Indeed, they not so much as replied after going a goal down to City as ripped into them. But finally, under Keegan, those in sky blue are also now made of sterner stuff than in years before, and the Costa Rican rose to even up the comeback.
The finale deflected away from a mixed performance by David Seaman - the day after his 40th birthday - in which both Fulham goals could have been traced, perhaps, to his lack of speed. The former Arsenal goalkeeper had started well, palming away a meaty volley by Steed Malbranque and, in the second half, spreading himself to deny the same player. But he was slow to react to Moritz Volz's chipped cross on 72 minutes. The speedy Luis Boa Morte wasn't, and he beat him to the ball, which then ran free for Malbranque to tap home. Was it offside? Possibly. Everyone hesitated. The referee pointed to the centre-circle.
Minutes later, and a through-ball from Malbranque found the young legs of Louis Saha, and he had pace to spare to leave Seaman creaking. He rounded the goalkeeper and rolled one in.
Those goals had come in response to a strike by another Frenchman, Nicolas Anelka, who scored in both victories against Fulham last season, just 20 seconds after half-time. He drifted in that languid style of his away from two challenges and struck a low, right-foot shot which took a heavy deflection off Zat Knight's leg. Edwin van der Sar was stranded. Jerome Bonnissel then cleared a header from Sylvain Distin from the line.
The goal rush compared to a first half which, after a fizzing start, was committed, careless and full of cautions. "Not one for the purists but entertaining," was Keegan's verdict. "A very strange game. Four goals, but problems in there for both managers to look at." On five minutes, Wanchope should have scored but somehow contrived to head Trevor Sinclair's corner wide, while the beanpole centre-half Knight did the same at the other end from a vicious Malbranque free-kick.
Before the match, the most urgent matter of note was the presence in the directors' box of the deposed Chelsea chief executive, Trevor Birch. Maybe he fancies a crack at running another west London club or, judging from the size of his pay-off, investing in one. There was also the sight of Messrs Weaver, Dunne and Fowler weighing down the City bench.
Fulham, by contrast, were lean and hungry. Coleman used phrases such as "showed bottle", "dug in" and "a lot of nerve". Beyond the clichés came that commitment. They bit into tackles, with the unlikely figure of Junicho Inamoto snapping at Steve McManaman's ankles and Sylvain Legwinski disrupting City. But it was an impossible pace, which Fulham couldn't maintain.
"They have shown me today that they have made strides forward," said Coleman - but the strides faltered. In the 91st minute, City substitute Paul Bosvelt struck a spectacular volley only to see the ball come back off a post for Wanchope's intervention.
Malbranque 73, Saha 79
Manchester City 2
Anelka 46, Wanchope 90
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 16,124Reuse content