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City for the win

WINNERS: Manchester City's Sergio Aguero (right) celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game with team mate Edin Dzeko (left)

IN THE BUILD-UP to this game, Roberto Mancini came out in support of his misfiring frontline, backing them to come good. And on a snowy, sub-zero Saturday night at the Etihad, the Manchester City attackers rewarded his faith as Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko both got on the scoresheet and Adam Johnson put in an inspired first-half performance, winning a penalty and running rings around Fulham’s Chris Baird, who deflected Johnson’s shot into his own net for the home side’s second goal.

January was a month to forget for the league leaders as they exited both the FA and Carling Cups and saw the Premier League gap that they build up over bitter rivals Manchester United diminished to just goal difference on Tuesday night as they lost 1-0 to bogey side Everton. Fulham were the last side to take anything from their visit to Eastlands, a point back in February last year, and they were also the first side to take points from City during this season after a stirring comeback from 2-0 down at Craven Cottage. However, whilst the Etihad is City’s fortress, the visitors have managed just one win on the road. It was always going to be tough and from the offset it was obvious that the attacking combination of David Silva, Aguero, Johnson and Dzeko would cause the visitors problems.

Mancini made four changes to the side that lost at Goodison, with Stefan Savic replacing the injured Vincent Kompany at centre-back- his first appearance since a torrid 45 minutes marking Craig Bellamy at Anfield in the Carling Cup Semi-final- whilst Aleksander Kolarov came in for Gael Clichy at left-back and Adam Johnson took over duties down the right wing. This proved to be an inspired move by the City boss with the Serbian making some fantastic charging runs down the left throughout the game.

Dzeko had a chance in the first minute after an attempted clearance by Fulham’s Moussa Dembele fell into his path but the returning Mark Schwarzer in goal was easy able to collect. The Bosnian then send a good effort over the bar after Gareth Barry had played him in from the left. City’s early chances saw most of the play entrenched in the visitors half and they got their reward ten minutes in. Following great play between Johnson and Aguero, the winger darted into the area and Chris Baird left his leg hanging out, which Johnson fell over. Mike Dean felt there was contact and pointed to the spot. Aguero hadn’t scored in five games and this gave him the perfect opportunity to get his 15th of the season. The Argentine made no mistake, hitting the ball high to the right to make it 1-0.

City really came into their stride after going ahead and Johnson was especially dangerous darting down the right. The league leaders were stronger on the ball, outmuscling their opponents and Fulham seemed unable to contain their bursts of speed on the run. Damien Duff did curl an effort just wide of Joe Hart’s left-hand post but the home side got their second on the half hour. Once again the goal involved the combination of Johnson and Baird. Kolarov started the move, sailing the ball into the area from the left and Aguero then flicked it into the path of Johnson. He took a shot, which hit the defender and smashed past Schwarzer in goal. Whilst the opener may have been controversial with some suggesting that Johnson made the most of the situation, Silva had a great shout for a spot-kick after being taken down by Dickson Etuhu who made no contact with the ball. This call, however, was waved away.

Manchester City's David Silva (left) and Adam Johnson (centre) celebrate after Fulham's Chris Baird (right) scores an own goal

And just moments later, Fulham almost gifted City a third, captain on the night Micah Richards ran into area, brushing off Simon Davies and was able to cross into the centre, where Phillipe Senderos attempted a clearance and almost sent it past Schwarzer, who had to make the save.

With the snow falling even heavier and a white sheet beginning to coat the pitch, the teams returned for the second half. Fulham, perhaps buoyed by memories of their comeback, came out with attacking intent. But for their possession in the opening ten minutes of the half, they were unable to create any real chances, and with crosses being easily cleared by the City back line or lacking the invention to reach anyone wearing white, perhaps helping to explain why they have scored the least goals away from home of any team in the league. There was a brief break in play to try and clear the snow that was beginning to settle around Schwarzer’s goal. Two free-kicks from near identical positions at opposing ends proved to be the best chances that other side had for a twenty-minute spell, with Danny Murphy forcing a save from Joe Hart after Gareth Barry hauled over Clint Dempsey and Kolarov hitting his set piece over after a forceful challenge from Senderos.

After yet another snow clearing break, Aguero sparked things back into life and his tirelessly running was rewarded with twenty minutes to go. Johnson played him in on the left, Aguero then did all the work, storming past Senderos and then teeing up Dzeko, who was able to side foot into the Fulham goal and make the three points certain.

Kolarov and Dembele squared up and both received bookings but with City in an unassailable lead, the game began to fizzle out. Aguero was replaced by Nigel de Jong on 80 to a great applause for his stirring performance and new signing David Pizarro also made a late cameo. Fulham substitute John Arne Riise’s left-footed effort forced a save from Joe Hart but by then the game was long over and the City fans began to jovially beg the referee to end the game so they could escape the freezing conditions.

In the end it was a comfortable three points for City, who can equal Newcastle’s 1995-1996 record of winning their first 13 home games of the season. But for now, their eyes will be firmly on tomorrow’s clash between Chelsea and Manchester United to see if they can reclaim some distance in the title race.

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