MAN CITY 4, FULHAM 1
Manchester City overcame an early setback to claim their place in the last 16 of the Emirates FA Cup with a comfortable home victory against Fulham.
On a weekend which saw neighbours United eliminated by Championship club Middlesbrough, City must have had some trepidation when the second-tier Cottagers took an early lead at the Etihad through talented teenager Fabio Carvalho.
But there was to be no repeat of the giantkilling which happened at Old Trafford the previous night as City hit back with a deadly four-goal burst.
They were behind only two minutes as Ilkay Gundogan quickly equalised before John Stones put them ahead.
Two second half strikes from Riyad Mahrez sealed victory as City made it eight straight victories against the Cottagers, who last won at the Etihad in 2009.Embed from Getty Images
City manager Pep Guardiola was delighted with his side’s display.
He said: “After two weeks off, you do not know how the players will perform.
“This round of the cup showed how difficult it is in the FA Cup, and we won against a top, top team.
“Fulham are top of the Championship and very good, one of the top scoring sides in Europe, They are a top side and Marco (Silva) has created an incredible team.
“We played well, especially in the second half when we adjusted our press, which was my fault, and we were much, much better.”
Fulham manager Marco Silva was delighted with his side’s first-half display.
He said: “We started the game as we planned it to be, a strong quick start to match them and show a desire to go through in the competition.
“The worst thing after scoring they equalised straightaway. We needed to show more resilience.
“In the first half we played really well and the way we controlled and built attacking moments and created chances.
“We didn’t start the second half as we should as they scored twice in the first 10 minutes, goals we should not have conceded, and which killed the game.”
City picked a strong team for their first match in a fortnight with Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden all starting, along with Mahrez after his return from the African Cup of Nations.
Portugal defender Joao Cancelo, who signed a new contract this week, also started while teenage striker Liam Delap, who turns 19 on Tuesday, was among the substitutes along with James McAtee who has also agreed a new long-term deal.
Fulham handed a debut to right back Neco Williams, who joined on loan from Liverpool on deadline day, while highly rated winger Carvalho, who almost moved in the opposite direction, also started.
City academy graduate Tosin Adarabioyo, who spent 18 years with the club after joined aged five, was at the heart of the Cottagers’ defence.
There was an explosive start with two goals inside the opening six minutes.
Fulham silenced the home fans as they snatched a fourth-minute lead.
Harry Wilson made a break down the right and crossed for Carvalho to side foot home from seven yards with City’s defence all at sea. It was the eighth goal of the season for the 19-year-old.
City were stung into action and were level inside two minutes. Cancelo crossed from the left, Mahrez squared the ball for Gundogan to sweep home a low shot from 10 yards for his sixth of the season.
And City were ahead in the 13th minute when Stones glanced home a near-post header from three yards from Kevin De Bruyne’s corner, his second goal of the season.
After the incident-packed opening there was a lull as Fulham finally found the measure of the Premier League champions.
And they even threatened an equaliser when Aleksandar Mitrovic fired narrowly wide as he went in search of a 29th goal of the season for the Cottagers.
City added a third goal eight minutes after the restart, a penalty from Mahrez, his 14th goal of the season, after Jack Grealish was tripped by Joe Bryan.
Referee Jarred Gillett did not make the decision which was made by an assistant who immediately raised his flag.
Mahrez made it two goals in four minutes when he was set up by De Bruyne who broke down the left and squared a pass for him to slot home from 12 yards.
Fulham, to their credit, kept playing their open, expansive game which has taken to the top of the Championship.
Neeskens Kebano’s fierce drive was beaten out by Zach Steffen and Carvalho, following up, shot straight at the City keeper.
Mid-half City made two changes as Joao Cancelo and De Bruyne made way for Oleksandr Zinchenko and Raheem Sterling.
And Guardiola made three further switches with 13 minutes left as Grealish, Mahrez and Foden were withdrawn for Bernardo Silva, Liam Delap and McAtee.
City thought they had a fifth goal in the last minute, but Delap had strayed offside before heading home Gundogan’s chipped cross.
Cottagers’ captain Tim Ream came close to a second goal for the visitors in stoppage time but his header from a corner flew wide as they kept battling to the end.