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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Craven Cottage

Spirited Fulham make Man City work hard for their route back to Premier League summit

Fulham (1) 1 Vinicius 15

Manchester City (2) 2 Haaland pen 3, Alvarez 36

Fulham went the way so many others have done this season as Man City reclaimed the lead in the Premier League – the title surely heading their way once more.

The Whites reacted superbly to going a goal down in the opening three minutes, with Carlos Vinicius bagging only his third of the campaign to cancel out an Erling Haaland penalty.

But a glorious shot from outside the box by World Cup winner Julian Alvarez put Pep Guardiola’s men back in the box seat and they were not going to relinquish for a second time.

Arsenal, hoping for their west London neighbours might do them a favour in the title race, were left as disappointed as the Whites’ faithful.

It was always asking a lot to expect the Whites to end a run of 13 straight defeats to City on a day when Aleksandar Mitrovic was still serving his suspension, but his replacement gave the Whites hope with a good finish after a chip from Andreas Pereira had been flicked on to him by the head of Harry Wilson.

Yet City always carried threats all over the pitch. Bernd Leno did superbly to tip a Jack Grealish effort onto the crossbar and smother a close-range turn from Ilkay Gundogan, which followed a slick move.

The early pressing from the champions – and champions-elect – was frightening. Fulham could barely get a touch, and when they did, they were instantly hounded out of possession by the hungry pack of wolves intent on world domination.

That collective work brought early dividends when Grealish pinged a ball across to Riyad Mahrez, and a quick pass inside to Alvarez appeared to have completed the preparatory carving, only for Tim Ream to end the move with a foul.

Haaland – who recently missed a big penalty in Munich - blasted in perfectly from the spot to claim his 50th goal of an astonishing season. In doing so, he also equalled a Premier League record of 34 held jointly by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer.

If Ream’s involvement in the opening goal hurt, there was an even more painful episode on the way for him after 20 minutes when he tumbled under a challenge from Alvarez, who then trod on his arm. He departed with the damaged limb in a makeshift sling fashioned from his shirt.

And there would be a further blow later in the day when Pereira had to be stretchered off with a bad-looking leg injury which might well spend the end of his season.

Along with the losses of Mitrovic, Willian and Ream, Marco Silva has been handed a string of setbacks which have complicated the run-in and deprived him of players who have been key to a highly successful season for the Cottagers.

Leno made another brilliant save early in the second half, when he got down low to keep out a first-time effort from Haaland – Grealish supplying an inviting pass from the left to the incoming hitman. Alvarez also tested him with an angled shot from 12 yards.

There was brief hope when a mix-up between Ederson and Ruben Dias gave Vinicius a glimpse of more glory, but the keeper recovered to retrieve the ball with an outstretched hand.

The Whites stayed in the game, and for that they deserve great credit, given the two injury disruptions and the standard of opposition, but they are still without a win against City since 2009 and no win against the Cityzens by the Thames since 2005.

This was never going to be an easy afternoon.

Whites: (4-2-3-1) Leno – Tete, Tosin, Ream (Diop 22), Robinson – Reed (Lukic 77), Palhinha - Wilson (Solomon 76), Pereira (Cairney 58), De Cordova-Reid (James 77) - Vinicius. Subs not used: Rodak, Duffy, Kebano, Soares

City: (3-2-4-1) Ederson – Walker, Ruben Dias, Akanji – Stones, Rodri – Mahrez (Foden 82), Alvarez (Bernardo Silva 82), Gundogan, Grealish – Haaland. Subs not used: Carson, Phillips, Laporte, Ortega, Gomez, Rodriguez, Lewis

Attendance: 24,000


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