Fulham secured a well-deserved point at the City of Manchester Stadium on Sunday. Damien Duff’s second-half strike cancelled out Mario Balotelli’s first-half opener.
Damien Duff returned to the starting line-up for the Whites after missing Fulham’s last match against Bolton in the FA Cup - and he certainly proved to be an influential figure. With Steve Sidwell missing through injury, Dickson Etuhu was also back in the centre of midfield.
The Whites started the game maintaining a sound defensive shape as City looked to get at Fulham early on, particularly down the wings courtesy of their attacking fullbacks - Jerome Boateng and Aleksander Kolarov.
Boateng looked a threat for most of the first-half, hugging the touchline and giving the home side some much needed width, resulting in a number of dangerous deliveries into the box.
Fulham mounted a promising attack on 20 minutes. Carlos Salcido made his first attacking run of the encounter, skipping past Boateng and setting off a period of sustained pressure for the Whites. Fulham moved the ball well and created a shooting opportunity for Danny Murphy, the Fulham Captain firing just over from 20 yards.
But City took the lead on 26 minutes courtesy of some opportunist finishing from Italian striker, Mario Balotelli. The City front man collected the ball some 25 yards from goal and drifted into a central position before hitting an accurate right-footed shot past Schwarzer.
Yet Fulham’s confidence looked far from being dented by the goal as the Whites got straight on to the front foot – pushing the home side back. But City were able to hold firm in the face of a resurgent Fulham and reached the half-time interval with their one-goal advantage intact.
Mark Hughes sent his Fulham players out early for the start of the second-half and the response he got from his men was almost immediate, with Damien Duff finishing off an incisive move to net the equaliser on 48 minutes.
Brede Hangeland set the play in motion by chipping a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Andrew Johnson. The Fulham striker used a burst of pace to beat his man and fire a low cross to the back post, where Duff arrived to firmly side-foot past Joe Hart.
Aaron Hughes needed to be at his best on 58 minutes when a searching pass from Kolo Toure fell perfectly for Balotelli. Fortunately, Hughes was able to match the striker for pace and muscled past the Italian, allowing Mark Schwarzer to collect safely.
Schwarzer was called into action soon after when Carlos Tevez was set free by a clipped pass. With Hangeland rapidly closing him down, Tevez scuffed a left-footed shot on target, which Schwarzer did well to reach and divert behind for a corner.
Aleksander Kolarov’s dipping long-range effort required the attentions of Fulham’s big Australian on 67 minutes – tipping the ball over the bar. City started turning the screw, winning a number of corners and putting the Fulham back line under relentless pressure.
Impressively, the Whites maintained their composure and soon started redressing the balance of play. Damien Duff played a pivotal role, winning a number of important free-kicks and looking dangerous whenever in possession.
Mark Hughes made his only substitution on 78 minutes, replacing Andrew Johnson with Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Fulham were looking the stronger side as the game entered its closing stages and it was through Damien Duff that the Whites’ most promising attacks were coming.
But despite their clear attacking intentions, Fulham were unable to find the winning goal, although Mark Hughes' side were certainly good value for the point.