Edin Dzeko scored with his first touch off the bench as Manchester City came from behind to beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage in the Premier League.
Dzeko, seconds after coming on, fired into the top right after an error from John Arne Riise, giving City the win when it looked like Fulham had done enough to earn a point.
Mladen Petric had given Martin Jol’s side an early lead from the spot after Pablo Zabaleta pulled back Riise in the box, with Sergio Aguero levelling just before half-time.
The win keeps City four points off leaders Chelsea, while Fulham – without injured star Dimitar Berbatov – are on nine points from their opening six games.
Fulham started brightly as a somewhat sluggish-looking City became accustomed to their surroundings, and the Whites exploited the moment by taking an early lead.
The champions’ defending has been suspect this season, and Pablo Zabaleta was hapless in his efforts to halt the run of John Arne Riise, who skipped past the Argentine far too easily before being taken down by a desperate tug.
The incident occurred on the fringes of the penalty area, with contact just inside, as Mark Halsey pointed to the spot: Petric made no mistake with a fierce penalty, sending Joe Hart one way and the finish the other.
Incredibly they could have doubled that lead soon afterwards when, on the quarter-hour, Petric thrashed his shot wide after fine build-up play from Hugo Rodallega and Steve Sidwell.
City seemed to wake from their slumber and, predictably, dominated the rest of the half as David Silva and Yaya Toure dominated the midfield in contrasting fashion.
Brede Hangeland cleared off the line when Zabaleta’s low cross looked set for a Toure tap-in, while Aguero should have done better with a free far-post header that he put wide.
Carlos Tevez tried in vain to claim a penalty when tumbling past Riise, although replays showed he made the most of it, while Whites goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer clawed the ball off the line after a goalmouth scramble saw Tevez and Aaron Hughes slide in together.
The big Australian made a smart double save from Silva and Aguero as City continued to bombard the home area, but he was powerless to prevent the equaliser on 43 minutes.
Schwarzer had already made one great save to palm away Silva’s first-time finish, which was a diversion of a Zabaleta cross-shot into the box: the keeper prostrate from his heroics, he could only watch as Aguero drove home the loose ball from a tight angle for a deserved leveller.
Half-time could not come quick enough for Fulham, who had their backs against the walls for the latter stages of the half.
They were better in the second period which, while largely controlled by City, was a more even affair, if relatively light on chances.
Indeed, both sides had just one noteworthy opportunity apiece in the third ‘quarter’, Brede Hangeland and Aguero both heading wide after good balls from Bryan Ruiz and Zabaleta respectively.
Aware that the match was in danger of drifting into a bore-fest, Roberto Mancini acted by introducing the volatile but inquisitive Mario Balotelli, who immediately launched a long-range effort past the post.
Most of City’s good work went through Silva, whose running and movement with the ball was exceptional, although he was unable to pick out a final ball of note.
Fulham, meanwhile, were not exactly passengers, the introduction of Swedish winger Alexander Kacaniklic injecting some flair to proceedings and carving out a chance for Ruiz, whose fine drive was batted away by Hart.
The last quarter-hour saw Samir Nasri enter the fray as the well-organised home defence and midfield constantly shut the door on City’s forays into the final third.
It was testament to work-rate and determination by the hosts, with veteran Greece midfielder Giorgos Karagounis brought on to shore things up further as City grew frustrated.
His first act was to give away a free-kick, which Balotelli spanked into the wall, signalling a last throw the dice for Roberto Mancini, with the introduction of Dzeko.
It threw up a six as, with his first touch, the Bosnian latched on to a dreadful defensive header from Riise to smash a vicious finish into the top right.
Schwarzer was right to be furious, his team’s good work undone by the sloppiest of errors. City could have added a third as Fulham left gaping holes while chasing an equaliser, the best chance falling to Silva, who fired just over from the edge of the box.
MAN OF THE MATCH
David Silva (Manchester City) – a livewire behind the strikers, his dribbling and poise was the standout in an otherwise tired-looking City performance.
FULHAM: Schwarzer 7, Riether 6, Hughes 7, Hangeland 7, Riise 6, Baird 6, Sidwell 7, Duff 6, Ruiz 7, Petric 6, Rodallega 6. Subs: Karagounis N/A, Kacaniklic 6
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 6, Zabaleta 6, Kompany 6, Nastasic 6, Clichy 6, Javi Garcia 6, Barry 6, Silva 7, Toure 6, Aguero 7, Tevez 6. Subs: Nasri 6, Dzeko 7, Balotelli 6
- Sports & Recreation
- John Arne Riise
- Pablo Zabaleta
- David Silva
- Manchester City
- Sergio Aguero