Fabio Capello was in the crowd but it was not just the Englishmen who were undergoing auditions at Craven Cottage on Saturday. The High Streets are counting down the shopping days to Christmas but at Manchester City they are looking a week further ahead, to New Year's Day and the opening of the transfer window.
City insist most of the stellar names linked with the club are purely speculative. Given the improbability of prising the likes of Iker Casillas or Lionel Messi away from their clubs mid-season – and who believes these millionaires would join a middling English club's quest for a Uefa Cup place just for a pay rise? – their denials are unlikely to be disproved. City will be one of the window's major players. It is just that their recruits are unlikely to be the marquee signings the owners hanker after. For the player who is dropped, however, it matters little whether it is Lassana Diarra or Kaka who has taken his place. Premier League footballers are always under pressure but City's must feel like contestants on The X Factor.
Didier Hamann is the kind of unspectacular but quietly valuable player often tossed aside when a club gets starry-eyed. He showed his usual efficiency on Saturday as City began well, Benjani heading in from the impressive Pablo Zabaleta's cross, wobbled, then rallied, to deservedly share the points with Fulham whose good form was underlined by the flowing move for Jimmy Bullard's equaliser. Hamann then explained he was focused on his own work rather than worrying about possible replacements.
"It's not in our hands who is coming in in January," he said. "[But] our manager has said whoever plays well and applies himself the way he should do has a future at the club."
Hughes suggested the speculation was hysterical but confirmed City's intent when he said: "I don't think there are going to be many clubs looking to spend in the window so we may have a competitive advantage." But he added: "Clubs do not have to sell."
"Every player in every country wants to ply his trade in the Premier League," said Fulham's experienced manager, Roy Hodgson. "But you'd have to be very, very sure about the players you'd be bringing in."
Goals: Benjani (5) 0-1; Bullard (26) 1-1.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Dempsey, Murphy, Bullard, Davies; Zamora, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Nevland, Kallio, Gera, Andreasen, Etuhu, Stoor.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Ben Haim, Dunne, Ball; Hamann, Kompany; Vassell, Wright-Phillips, Ireland; Benjani (Evans, 76) Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Onuoha, Jo, Caicedo, Evans, Logan, Berti.
Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).
Booked: Fulham Pantsil, Bullard; Manchester City Ireland.
Man of the match: Bullard.