|Fulham are beaten 1-4 by Manchester City.|
Marc Vivien Foe
Marc Vivien Foe Card was given for a foul
David Sommeil Card was given for a foul
Niclas Jensen Card was given for a foul
Player was substituted for tactical reasons
Player was substituted for tactical reasons
Luis Boa Morte Card was given for a foul
The Robbie Fowler era started with a bang at Maine Road - and Manchester City's £6million striker wasn't even playing.
Fowler will leave the depths of Leeds' despair and sign on the dotted line for Kevin Keegan's rising stars in the morning with his first task simply to win a first-team place.
With Nicolas Anelka leading the charge, as he has most of the season, City overcame a dismal start and the loss of another early goal to record their biggest win of the season against a Fulham side who finished as badly beaten as the scoreline suggests.
Anelka slotted home his 11th of the season to level Steed Malbranque's earlyopener, then played a pivotal role after the interval as City swept to victory with second half goals from Ali Benarbia, Marc Vivien Foe and Shaun Wright Phillips.
While the debate over whether a new striker is really the priority Keegan hasmade it could be argued long and hard either way, there is no doubt Anelka hasbeen a class apart at the head of City's forward line.
Shaun Goater and Darren Huckerby have both had a go at partnering thecontroversial French international at various stages of the season without toomuch success and on Wednesday it was the turn of Djamel Belmadi. The Algerian, making his first start since signing on loan from Marseilleuntil the end of the season, darted around and looked more of a threat thaneither of his predecessors - although it was the second half before he startedto cause the Cottagers some damage.
Belmadi's initial contribution was to loft a volley high over the bar after Anelka's flicked header had bounced over Alain Goma's head.
That chance came at the end of a frenzied Fulham start, which raised all the old question marks about Keegan's tactical nous and defensive frailties.
With £3.5million newcomer David Sommeil given a berth in a three-man central defence, Richard Dunne was switched to right wing-back and endured a torrid start as Steve Marlet and Luis Boa Morte led him a merry dance.
After conceding inside 10 seconds on their last outing at Newcastle, City lasted a whole minute and a half longer this time round before Dunne deflected Steed Malbranque's attempted pass straight back into the Frenchman's path and then watched him despatch a 20-yard shot past Carlo Nash.
In contrast to the blunder which gifted the Magpies their opener at St James'Park, Nash was blameless on this occasion and wouldn't have been at fault either a few minutes later had Malbranque's next effort from a similar position foundthe bottom corner rather than the base of his left-hand post.
At that stage, Keegan must have been thanking his lucky stars Fowler had elected not to stay on and watch the game or a hasty change of heart might havebeen on the cards.
It took the straightforward build-up to Anelka's goal to spark City into lifeas Sommeil fed Benarbia who in turn gave the French striker a scoring pass andthough the home defence still looked porous, Fulham couldn't muster the possession to take advantage.
Fowler has cited Keegan's impressive sales technique as one of the major factors behind his imminent move and the oracle worked its magic again at the interval as City opened the second half even more rapidly than Fulham hadstarted the first.
It took them just 58 seconds to find the net, Belmadi breaking down the rightand delivering the cross which fellow Algerian Benarbia mis-hit, but badly enough to totally deceive Maik Taylor, who was left flat-footed as it bounced over his shoulder.
Yet that effort was forced to concede second place in the 'fast' stakes, asWright-Phillips found himself on the end of Dunne's flicked header and poked theball past Taylor with his first touch of the game barely 30 seconds after his arrival as substitute.
The England under-21 international had replaced Benarbia, whose bravery had seen City extend their lead midway through the second-half, the City skipper diving amongst the Fulham feet to get his head onto Anelka's cross.
Taylor, again startled, could not cling on to the ball and Marc-Vivien Foe bundled the rebound home for his seventh goal of the campaign and leave Fowler in no doubt that life in Manchester promises far more than the sinking ship heleaves behind.
Postponements permitting, it was the last evening game ever to be played at the Blues' famous old home.
If this is anything to go by, the City of Manchester Stadium will be the place to be next season.
Competition: Barclays Premier League
Date: Wednesday 29 January 2003
Venue: Maine Road, Manchester
Referee: Steve Bennett
Line-up: Nash; Sommeil, Jensen; Foe; Distin, Dunne; Benarbia (Wright-Phillips 70'), Horlock; Anelka (Goater 86'); Howey, Belmadi
Unused substitutes: Weaver, Jihai, Huckerby
Line-up: Taylor; Finnan, Brevett; Davis; Goma, Djetou; Malbranque, Legwinski; Marlet, Boa Morte; Goldbaek
Unused substitutes: Herrera, Melville, Harley, Inamoto, Sava
|18||West Ham United||25||20|
|20||West Bromwich Albion||24||17|