Point puts blow in City's title hopes...A second half striker from Fulham winger Damien Duff helped put a huge dent into Manchester City’s title hopes, as the Irish international leveled after Mario Balotelli had put the Eastlands side ahead, meaning the Roberto Mancini’s side are now ten points behind Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title.
Roberto Mancini’s side were without the services of Vincent Kompany and David Silva who were out with injury after the Eastlands side’s three goal Europa League triumph over Greek side Aris on Thursday evening.
His opposite number Mark Hughes brought back Damien Duff and Dickson Etuhu, who replaced both Steven Sidwell and Zoltan Gera, who played in the Cottagers last game, an F.A. Cup defeat at home to Bolton last week.
The crowd inside the City of Manchester stadium were not treated to the same explosive start as they seen in midweek, as the Fulham defense stood firm early on to deny the home side as full backs Aleksandar Kolarov and Jerome Boateng broke forward, but could not provide the final ball to the front three of Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko.
The first real chance of the game came midway through the half, as Fulham played a passing move through the home defense, before the ball arrived at the feet of Clint Dempsey, but the American could only put his chance over the bar.
That strike had the home fans on their feet, as they were unhappy with the lackadaisical style in which their side was playing against a stubborn Fulham side, who with former City manager Hughes in charge, were looking to keep Tevez quiet, by cutting off any service to the Argentinean.
But minutes later, the home support was once again, venting their frustration, as a move from Dempsey and Andrew Johnson ended with the ball arriving at the feet of Moussa Dembele, but his strike failed to trouble Joe Hart in the Manchester City goal.
Then, out of nowhere the home side went ahead as Balotelli received the ball inside the penalty area, before playing a one-two with Tevez, then unleashing an unstoppable strike from just outside the box, that left Mark Schwarzer helpless, as it nestled in the corner of the Fulham goal.
From then on the home continued to pressure, but still could not find a way through the Fulham defense in order to give Manchester City a comfortable lead going into the half time break.
The visitors came out of the half time break with a purpose and that was rewarded straight away as Brede Hangeland found Johnson racing down the right hand side and after he had beat Kolarov, he whipped in a ball onto the left foot of Duff, who side footed into the net and celebrated In front of the small band of Fulham supporters who had made the journey north.
That goal had the home fans frustrated once again and their side went forward in search of the goal to retake the lead, as Pablo Zabaleta found Balotelli with a cross from the right hand side, but the Italian could not place his header on target as it sailed wide.
Mancini’s side had another chance from Balotelli, as Zabaleta once again found the Italian in space after Hangeland had slipped while trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick. But once again the Manchester City frontman was found wanting as he mis-kicked from six yards out.
The Eastlands boss decided it was time to make a change and that came in the form of Patrick Vieira, who replaced Dzeko as the home side looked to change their formation in order to find a way pass Schwarzer in the Fulham goal.
Straight away the Frenchman was involved, as he passed through to Yaya Toure, who then found Tevez racing in on goal and he forced Schwarzer into a save as the Australian keeper palmed the ball round his left hand post and out for a corner.
They continued to push forward a will and were nearly rewarded when the ball landed at the feet of Kolarov, after Fulham failed to deal with a corner, arriving at the left backs feet nearly 30 yards from the goal. He then unleashed strike the Schwarzer tipped onto the bar for yet another corner.
Fulham nearly shocked their hosts, as they went close when Dembele was found inside the box by Duff who had delivered a cross from the right hand side to the head of the Belgian, but he could not put the visitors ahead as the ball went wide of goal.
With a quarter of an hour left Mancini decided to make a forward thinking change, as he took off Kolarov and replaced him with James Milner as the Eastlands side went in search of the winner that would keep them in touch with neighbors Manchester United at the top of the Premier League.
But rather than helping to create more chances, it was the visitors than had the chances, as both Dembele and Dempsey had shots, within minutes of each other that could have snatched all three points for Hughes side.
The home side could have claimed the victory late on as Balotelli whipped in a free kick that nearly found Tevez inside the area, but before the City captain could get a strike off the Fulham defense managed to clear the danger
Fulham were able to hang on the point that sees them go into 13th place in the table, five points clear of the relegation zone.
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