Barclay’s English Premiership
Saturday 6 December 2008, 12:45 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Dunne (c), Ben-Haim, Ball, Hamann, Kompany, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Vassell, Benjani (Evans 77)
Unused: Schmeichel, Onuoha, Berti, Logan, Jo, Caicedo
Goals: Benjani (6)
City Man of the Match: Pablo Zabaleta
The game started brightly and City had the lead inside six minutes. Some neat play down the right wing saw Zabaleta just manage to keep the ball in play, before he delivered a good looking left foot cross for Benjani. The big Zimbabwean nodded the ball past Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal, for his third goal this season.
A minute later, City could and probably should have made it two, after Schwarzer failed to deal with another Zabaleta cross, with a weak punch that fell to Stephen Ireland. But the City midfielder volleyed wide, with the Fulham keeper off limits and their defence covering the goal.
Joe Hart preserved City’s lead shortly after, diving very bravely at Andy Johnson’s feet to block the former England-man’s one-on-one.
Fulham’s shouts for a penalty fell on deaf ears just after 20 minutes, when Andy Johnson turned inside and the ball struck Richard Dunne on the arm. The home side wanted a penalty, but they got a corner, instead. From that corner, City were under pressure and it took a good save from Joe Hart to keep City in the lead.
But just before the half-hour, Jimmy Bullard equalised for the home side. He managed to lose Vincent Kompany and found himself free in the box, receiving a pass from Bobby Zamora, and slammed the ball past Hart.
City could have re-taken the lead immediately, when Richard Dunne found Darius Vassell with a long ball. Vassell took it down well, but his volley from the edge of the box was straight at Schwarzer.
Clint Dempsey should have done better after a knock down from Andy Johnson and the American could have scored with a diving header on 40 minutes, which flew well over Joe Hart’s crossbar.
A good move from City found Benjani on the edge of the box with just minutes to go before half time, and his shot from range skimmed just past Schwarzer’s right hand post, with the big Aussie scrambling over.
Fulham started the second half the brighter of the two teams, but couldn’t really force any chances, apart from a snapshot from Zamora, and City began to build from the back. Pablo Zabaleta was getting a lot of joy down the right wing and found himself playing more football in the opposition box than his own!
On 54 minutes, the Argentinian was very unlucky to have not made it 1-2, when his low and powerful drive from a Benjani lay off was touched around the post by Schwarzer.
Then, just before the hour, centre-back Tal Ben-Haim had home hearts in their mouths when a City corner fell to him on the edge of the box, but his volley was just over the bar.
Rob Styles continued in his march to earn himself a poor reputation with most Premier League fans, when he wrongly awarded Fulham a free-kick from 30 yards and it took a wonderful save from Joe Hart to deny Jimmy Bullard’s strike.
Michael Ball cleared the ball off the line when Bobby Zamora attempted to stab the ball past Joe Hart from a Fulham corner and City then nearly took the lead twice in quick succession. Pablo Zabaleta drove a shot straight at Schwarzer from the right side of the box and Michael Ball nearly caught the home keeper out, with a cheeky effort that Scharwzer flapped onto his near post.
Stephen Ireland was then booked for what looked to be a clean tackle, and Jimmy Bullard forced a very comfortable save from Joe Hart from the resulting free kick.
Both sides then huffed and puffed but couldn’t force a decent enough chance to take all three points.
With no Premiership team having scored more than one at Craven Cottage this season, a draw won’t be seen by City as a bad result, but on another day they could quite easily have left west London with all three. Then again, Fulham had their chances, so perhaps a draw was the fairest result.