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Man City 3 0 Fulham Prem24 Telegraph

last updated Monday 06th February 2012, 10:27 AM
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Chris Bascombe at Daily Telegraph

Man City (2) 3 Fulham (0) 0

If this is a sign of Manchester City cracking up in the title race, Roberto Mancini will be hoping the same anxiety runs riot for the remainder of the season.

A comforting victory over Fulham not only enabled City to consolidate their place at the top, but also to defy suggestions they're shrinking under the weight of expectations.

They never once looked like surrendering their league leadership once Sergio Agüero slammed home a 10th minute penalty.

The only signs of self-destruction were apparent in Fulham, particularly full-back Chris Baird, who gifted City a penalty and an own goal, before Edin Dzeko confirmed City's three-point lead at the top.

Mancini's side were not exactly facing dogged opponents, but for anyone looking nervously for hints of an implosion at the Etihad, it was a reassuring performance.

"It was important to win after the Everton defeat," Mancini said.

"After this, something can change because January was a difficult month.

Now we can go on a good way.

We know that if you want to win the league you have to try to win all the games and not think about the other teams.

" City realise they are in unchartered territory at this stage of a Premier League season, and like any explorer arriving in unconquered land, they must prepare for the potentially savage hazards.

Many of them, they are being reminded, are mental more than physical.

The concept of the 'mind game' is considered as consequential as the fixtures themselves.

It has become a peculiar, recurring feature that anyone with the audacity to attempt to defeat Sir Alex Ferguson must, at least once in a season, be depicted as suffering a gradual descent into dementia worthy of King Lear.

Tell Mancini enough times he is starting to lose the plot, and even if chooses to reject it, enough people will make it stick with the reminders of those who doth protest too much.

Evidence of apprehension is not plentiful.

This victory means they have now managed seven wins, three defeats and one draw in their last 11 Premier League games.

Over a hectic new year period they have not been as rampant as they were, but they are not jittery at the knees, either.

The forces of Fergie would 'love it, just love it' if Mancini started to resemble Kevin Keegan in 1996, but the suggestion United's multitude of titles have been secured due to the psychological blowouts of opponents is drenched in myth.

It is an insult to the great United teams to claim it was the pressure of the finale rather than their talent that won those leagues, which is why, in the face of inferiority in this campaign, there is a hint of desperation at the zest with which every twitch of Mancini's brow is perceived as a turning point in the title race.

The only shudders here were due to the icy conditions.

City may have felt they had no need to settle anxieties within their own camp, but if the message needed repeating to a sceptical world, Fulham were welcome guests.

Martin Jol's side have a miserable away record this season, winning just once.

They were the last team to take a point at this stadium, last season, but they now look a side that must surely be aware of those at the bottom working their way back from the drop zone.

Dzeko should have scored within 90 seconds, tamely striking an Agüero pass directly at Mark Schwarzer, but with the early momentum there was an air of inevitability, as well as controversy, about the opening goal on 10 minutes.

A miserable evening for Baird, preferred at left-back to John Arne Riise, began with the careless flick of a boot against Adam Johnson's trailing leg.

Johnson hit the deck with the expertise of a Las Vegas croupier, but it was enough for referee Mike Dean to cry foul.

"Adam Johnson has done well to get the penalty," was Martin Jol's diplomatic observation.

"He gave the referee a decision.

" David Silva ran the game and Samir Nasri enjoyed one of his best City performances, not coincidentally in a more central role, before picking up an injury in the second half.

Johnson, whose artistry was preferred to the more diligent but often dull James Milner, was terrorising Baird.

He compounded the defender's early despair by crossing directly into the Northern Irishman's shin in the 29th minute, the deflection leaving Schwarzer stranded.

City were able to ease largely unchallenged through the second half, Dzeko firing a third from close range on 72 minutes.

They were never going to feel the heat in these temperatures.

They have been top since October.

If they keep it as cool until May, the title is theirs.

Man City Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Kolarov, Nasri (Milner 54), Barry, Silva, Johnson (Pizarro 90), Aguero (De Jong 80), Dzeko.
Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Clichy, Rekik.

Booked: Kolarov.

Goals: Aguero 10 pen, Baird 30 og, Dzeko 72.

Fulham Schwarzer, Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos (John Arne Riise 73), Baird, Davies, Murphy, Etuhu (Ruiz 68), Duff, Dembele (Gecov 85), Dempsey.
Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Kasami, Hughes, Frei.

Booked: Senderos (67,f), Dembele (75, ub), Baird (85,f).

Att: 46,963

Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).

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