Manchester City battle hard to beat Fulham and return to Premier League summit

Manchester City are top of the Premier League for the first time since February 17 thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Pep Guardiola’s men were pushed until the end by Fulham, who stuck doggedly with the in-form champions throughout the match.

Far more experienced top-flight sides might have crumbled when Erling Haaland netted his 50th goal of the season from the penalty spot after just three minutes.

However, Fulham managed to find a leveller a little over 10 minutes later through Carlos Vinicius, who has struggled for goals since he became a regular starter in the absence of the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Haaland scored from the spot after just three minutes
Haaland scored from the spot after just three minutes (John Walton/PA)

It took a touch of class from Julian Alvarez to restore the visitors’ advantage in the first half, superbly curling home what proved to be the winner.

It was Fulham who looked most likely to score again as the game neared its conclusion, but City held on to move above Arsenal.

Haaland made no mistakes with his powerful penalty just three minutes in after Tim Ream, who has been a mainstay of the Fulham defence this campaign, was judged to have brought down Alvarez in the box.

The goal all-but killed any forward momentum from Fulham who reverted to a defensive formation to try and curb City’s attacking threat.

Julian Alvarez celebrates his goal
Julian Alvarez celebrates his goal (John Walton/PA)

Jack Grealish had a low drive saved by Leno in the 14th minute, but Fulham found an equaliser against the run of play just moments later.

Vinicius, who had only scored two goals previously this season, thrashed a fine finish past Ederson in the 15th minute.

The forward, who has been criticised by the home fans in recent weeks for his lack of end product, was in the right place after Harry Wilson flicked the ball down into his path, and made no mistake with his left-foot strike.

Fulham were dealt a blow in the 20th minute with the loss of on-field captain Ream, who slipped trying to make a tackle and landed awkwardly on his arm.

City maintained their pressure on the Fulham defence, with Leno called into action again to tip a Grealish effort onto the bar and Antonee Robinson denying Alvarez at the far post.

Carlos Vinicius levelled the scores
Carlos Vinicius levelled the scores (John Walton/PA)

The visitors restored their advantage after 36 minutes, with a stunning curled strike into the corner from Alvarez.

The Argentinian held off the defenders to create an opening outside of the box before taking his shot.

City started the second half in the same manner they finished the first, with Leno diving low to his right to deny a low effort from Haaland.

Andreas Pereira was carried off on a stretcher following a coming-together with Manuel Akanji, forcing manager Marco Silva into his second unplanned change of the afternoon.

Fulham had a chance to score a second leveller when Vinicius was played in down the left side of the box, but Ederson was just able to gather and deny the forward a shot at what would have been an empty goal.

Tempers flared briefly between Grealish and Kenny Tete as Fulham felt they should have been given a penalty when Bobby Decordova-Reid was brought down in the box, but the referee waved play on.

The game finished in tense fashion, but City are back at the summit of the Premier League – a point ahead of the Gunners having played a game fewer.