Barclay’s Premier League
Sunday 27 February 2011, 15.00 KO
City: Hart, Boateng, Kolarov (Milner 77), Lescott, K Touré, Zabaleta, Barry, Y Touré, Balotelli, Tevez (c), Dzeko (Vieira 62)
Unused: Taylor, Wabara, Jo, Wright-Phillips, Guidetti
Goals: Balotelli (26)
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the Match: Pablo Zabaleta
City started the game slowly, but they were able to keep possession of the ball in the Fulham half, though unable to create any clear-cut chances. Boateng whipped in a drive ball into the box, but it was held by Schwarzer and Balotelli headed over as he challenged for a Kolarov corner.
With 16 minutes played, Tevez and Zabaleta linked up well and it could have been better, but the Argentinean full back couldn’t get enough on Boateng’s cross to worry the visiting defence.
Fulham, though, soon showed that they hadn’t come to Eastlands to let City play. Beginning to get a foothold on the ball with some possession in midfield, they attacked quickly with Murphy firing over and Lescott and Touré needing to be on their guards to cut out a quick breakaway.
But then, as the visitors appeared to have settled into the game, Balotelli put City in front with a shot from absolutely nothing. Tevez had the ball on the left side of the penalty area and knocked it back to the Italian. He took a couple of touches inside and curled it expertly into the bottom corner, making it nine goals in 11 starts.
Clint Dempsey was lucky to escape any punishment when he seemed to want to square up to anybody and everybody. First he wasn’t happy with Gareth Barry after a challenge and then it was Yaya Touré who was on the receiving end of his displeasure. Zabaleta then had some of Dempsey’s thoughts, before the referee calmed him down.
A Fulham free kick could have been more fruitful after it was played to Duff on the left. He fired in a low cross that Johnson couldn’t force towards goal and City were able to scramble it clear.
But then, just after the break, the visitors got their equaliser. A quick break down the right let Andy Johnson through and he fired a low ball across goal for Duff to smash in at the back post. The City fans were stunned, but it wasn’t really against the run of play.
And the goal gave the visitors a lift, with Johnson firing a shot straight at Hart, who was able to hold. City were struggling to keep the ball and couldn’t get Tevez, Dzeko or Balotelli involved.
A respite in the Fulham pressure brought a City free kick from 25 yards out, but Tevez lifted it well over the bar, before Balotelli miscued a header from a Zabaleta cross. The crowd tried to gee up the players, but it just wasn’t going right for the home side.
With 20 minutes to play, City had a series of corners that Fulham were struggling to deal with. Both Balotelli and Kolarov were firing the ball into the box, but it wouldn’t go in, despite the efforts of the big men in the box. In all of that action, Kolarov almost scored a cracker – a volley from mid-way into the Fulham half – but Schwarzer touched it over.
As the game wore on, City’s efforts became increasingly desperate and Fulham appeared happy with a point. Boateng and Balotelli shot from a long way out and neither troubled the goalkeeper, but perhaps the best chance fell to Tevez. He was played through by Milner and almost flicked it past Schwarzer, but for the keeper’s fingertips.
In the end, City had to settle for a point, but that made it four seasons in a row where City had taken the lead in this fixture and gone on not to take maximum points. A bad day at the office for the blues, but there’s still a long way to go.