Fine finishes from Mario Balotelli and Damien Duff were the only brief highlights in an otherwise dire contest as Manchester City and Fulham shared the points at Eastlands on Sunday.
This was Mark Hughes’ first game back at City following his dismissal in December 2009 and he will have been pleased with his side’s hard earned point - even if he appeared to argue with Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini on the final whistle.
Mancini was dealt a blow before kick off when Vincent Kompany failed to recover from a hip problem, while Nigel De Jong remained on the sidelines.
David Silva has been in incredible form recently but he was also missing with an ankle problem although City’s embarrassment of riches meant Mancini still played with three fine attackers in the form of Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko.
City may well have an intriguing FA Cup encounter later this week but a top-four finish is a must for the club this season and this game was massively more important for Mancini.
It was of course the Italian who replaced Mark Hughes at Eastlands 14 months ago and if he does not manage to get them a Champions League qualification position then he too could be heading for the exit in the summer.
Hughes had to cope without Bobby Zamora yet again as he twisted his ankle in training yet despite that setback, the visitors arrived high on confidence following just one league defeat in seven outings, a run which had helped them climb clear of trouble and into mid table.
The opening moments were a drab affair in a game played out in a curiously slow and pedestrian manner as City tried their best to break through Fulham’s determined looking midfield.
Neither goalkeeper had much to do until Balotelli’s moment of brilliance after 26 minutes when he shrugged off the attentions of Danny Murphy and fired a low effort that left Mark Schwarzer no chance.
The rest of the first half remained just as dire as the opening stages and Fulham made City pay for their blasé attitude with a brilliant equaliser straight after the interval.
Andy Johnson chased down a long through ball and fired in a superb low cross which found Duff just seven yards out and he clinically slotted past Joe Hart.
It was a wonderfully executed piece of skill and Fulham deserved the goal for the discipline and commitment they were showing.
City just could not find their groove and they grew more and more frustrated as Fulham battled away in a bid to preserve their point.
Even the normally dependable Tevez did virtually nothing apart from waste one decent free-kick position shortly before Balotelli missed a superb opportunity as he mis-kicked just three yards out.
Fulham were more than happy to be level again and did not really threaten too much themselves as Moussa Dembele’s long-range effort went wildly adrift.
As City’s frustrations continued to grow, Tevez did finally find his range as he latched on to a Balotelli through-ball but Schwarzer did wonderfully well to clip the effort around the post to keep the game level.
City continued to press as the end approached and Schwarzer was again on hand to help Fulham out as he managed to tip over Aleksandar Kolarov’s dipping effort.
But for all City’s efforts, they never appeared likely to find a winner and so it proved.
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