Mark Hughes, looking to improve upon his 4-1 loss earlier in the season, set out to get at a tired Manchester City, and his side moved the ball around nicely. Moussa Dembele caused plenty of problems and linked well with Andy Johnson, who looked to exploit the channels dangerously.
Mancini sent his side out with all the attacking intent he could muster, however the front three of Balotelli, Dzeko, and Tevez failed to link up effectively. Dzeko, fresh off the back of a fine brace in midweek, particularly struggled to make his mark on the proceedings and was hauled off after an hour. Yaya Toure, Zabaleta, and Barry looked to keep things simple in the middle of the park. However, there was a distinct lack of ambition from the midfield trio and David Silva’s creativity was clearly missing as City failed to link defense and attack with any real verve.
One flash of class from Mario Balotelli eventually lit up a very flat first half. Balotelli, who did not really look interested in the build up, linked up with Tevez, dropping a little shimmy inside and smashing past Mark Schwarzer. A fine goal marking the precocious Italian’s eighth of the season, yet still failing to draw a smile.
Upwards of 40,000 fans in Eastlands failed to lift the atmosphere above a whisper on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. The lack of atmosphere was obvious when the organizers did not even put on some half time entertainment to lift the ground following a drab performance from the home side.
Fulham were sent out more fired up following the break, and put together a finely crafted goal two minutes into the half. The typically brilliant Brede Hangeland played a fantastic pass into the channel for Andy Johnson, who fired the ball across goal with plenty of pace, and Damien Duff kept his cool to finish at the back post.
Mancini reacted by taking off the anonymous Dzeko for Patrick Viera, shifting his system to a narrow 4-4-2 with Zabaleta and Kolarov providing width. The change nearly paid off instantly as Viera played the ball to Balotelli who cleverly flicked into the path of Carlos Tevez, whose left footed strike lacked power. City instantly started to build pressure by moving the ball forward quicker and with more menace. However, Fulham survived this vital period and Mark Schwarzer denied Kolarov a wonder goal, palming his long range dipping strike over the bar.
Hughes’ side impressively looked to pressure the City players high up the field, even in the latter stages. They forced mistakes from City by showing their determination to take something from the game, and kept possession patiently on the edge of the City area in search of a breakthrough.
As the final whistle blew, boos rung out around Eastlands. Mancini’s disappointment was clear as he refused to make eye contact with his predecessor at the post-match hand shake, prompting Hughes to angrily pull his hand away. An unsavory incident clearly indicative of the pressure Mancini is feeling following this final dent to his side’s title hopes.