The ‘Real’ Manchester City finally arrived in season 2012/13 – 540 minutes into the defence of their Premier League crown.
In a master class of fast moving, incisive attacking football, City produced a performance a million miles removed from the abject midweek offering against Aston Villa, as they tore into Fulham from the off.
With 71% possession and 23 attempts on goal, maroon clad Manchester clearly overwhelmed their hosts throughout the 90 minutes, despite the best attempts of ref, Mark Halsey to keep the Londoners in the contest.
City fans have a ‘soft spot’ for Halsey – after all he was the ref who found the added minutes that enabled Paul Dickov to score the 94th minute equalizer in the 1999 Play Off Final against Gillingham.
Such was his abysmal performance at Craven Cottage, the only soft spot nowadays would be a pit of quicksand, as he handed Fulham a farcical penalty and denied City three genuine appeals for spot kicks.
Pablo Zabaleta’s innocuous ninth minute challenge on John Arne Riise outside City’s penalty area was laughably deemed a foul – and worse still – a foul insidethe 18 yard box.
Riise went down easier than a Bangkok prostitute’s knickers after the slightest contact from Zabaleta’s outstretched arm on his torso. The City players were justifiably incensed.
Mladen Petric smashed the penalty past Joe Hart, shattering City’s hopes of a first clean sheet of the season. Roberto Mancini fumed, justifiably, on the touchline as the pundits and detractors sensed another opportunity to undermine the fiery Italian.
Ex-Liverpool and Roma defender, Riise was to be a key figure in the match, getting away with two unpunished fouls on Tevez in the penalty box, before justice was finally done when his poor clearance allowed Edin Dzeko to smash home City’s late winner.
Apart from Riise’s thunderbolt free kick – suitably saved by the excellent Hart – the rest of the half was typified by wave upon wave of City attacks. Efforts by Aguero, Clichy, Tevez, Silva, Yaya…it was surely only of a matter of time before the equalizer.
Amid a huge scramble in the six yard box, Fulham keeper, Schwarzer had somehow smothered a Zabaleta shot right on his line but the Aussie stopper’s luck was about to run out. His great reaction save from David Silva’s low drive saw the ball squirm free to Sergio who pounced for 1-1 on the stroke of half time.
City should have led 3-0 at the break but it bode well for the second half. This was a City team showing the football world why they are indeed the Champions of England.
Halsey notched his ‘hat-trick’ of ignored penalty claims when he waved play on despite Sidwell’s blatant push on Zabaleta. Was it just ineptitude from the ref? What other reason could there possibly be?
The tri-axis of Barry Yaya and Silva was the cornerstone of all that was good about this performance – this was Manchester City back in the groove.
Incredibly Fulham were still hanging in there – like a punch drunk boxer lurching around the ring waiting for the next flurry of jabs, uppercuts and haymakers.
Fulham’s solitary ‘retaliation’ came with a magnificent Bryan Ruiz strike in the 73rd minute, expertly beaten away by Hart.
Mancini is a fighter and he went for the knockout. Mario, Nasri and Dzeko were added to the fray for Tevez, Barry and Garica.
Not for the first time in recent games it was left to the unassuming Bosnian to bring home the victory. Widely regarded as the fourth choice in City’s striking quartet of Aguero, Tevez and Balotelli, Dzeko keeps on delivering.
The 91st minute equalizer before Sergio’s grandstand finish against QPR will never be forgotten, but this season he has risen from the bench to bag crucial goals against Southampton, QPR and Real Madrid.
It was ever thus after just one minute on the pitch. A Clichy cross was headed goalward by Balotelli and the villainous Riise’s weak clearance fell to Dzeko.
He latched onto the loose ball, swiveling round and lashing home the winner.
This could easily have been a 5-0 rout and yet pundits and observers inexplicably claim City did not play well and are struggling – why?
On the games played this season, City remain on course to retain their title. A win over Sunderland next weekend would put them two points ahead based on the corresponding fixtures from 2011/12.
If this is a bad patch, I for one cannot wait for City to hit more fertile ground. Forza Mancini.