Roberto Mancini insists his
This was a game which City were really obliged to win, given the amount of possession they hogged, but after a sleepy start on the bank of the Thames which saw them fail once again to keep a clean sheet and up against a side who enjoy nothing more than working feverishly to turn over the fat cats at the Cottage, they made almightily laborious work of the job.
It looked as if they were heading for a fifth straight match without a win but, ultimately, after much decent passing interplay, largely conducted by David Silva, only some amateurish defending from the home side gifted City victory with just three minutes left,
Dzeko scoring with his first touch within a minute of being brought on.
Gaël Clichy’s cross, flicked on by Mario Balotelli, should have been comfortably dealt with at the far post but John Arne Riise headed the ball feebly back off his team-mate Brede Hangeland into the predators’ zone, with Dzeko’s strength enabling him to hold off a challenge, turn and beat the excellent Mark Schwarzer.
Mancini was not about to hide his relief. “We’ve been unlucky for three or four weeks when we had matches we deserved to win,” he said.
Adamant that City were again on the wrong end of another bad decision, after referee Mark Halsey had awarded Fulham a 10th minute penalty which Mladen Petric converted, Mancini had fretted that they would end up dropping a point here, just as they had last season.
The League’s loveliest ground, as it sometimes has a habit of doing, appeared to lull the champions into a lethargic false sense of security for a good half an hour. And when Riise tried a push and run around Pablo Zabaleta, it was soon time for the visitors to contemplate an unwelcome claim to fame, becoming the first Premier League champions to concede goals in their first six matches of their defence.
Zabaleta hung out a leg and flopped out an arm as Riise, barely brushed, took the tumble on the edge of the box. It looked a soft penalty all right and City seemed so out of sorts afterwards that the Croatian Petric, having sent Joe Hart the wrong way with his spot kick, ought to have had a second goal when he ballooned a great opportunity high and not very handsome.
After that Fulham created little, relying on the immense Schwarzer and his increasingly beleaguered rearguard to deal with the City trident of Carlos Tévez, Sergio Aguero and Silva working some bewildering angles.
Tévez was public enemy No 1, twice claiming to have been bundled over by Riise in the Fulham area, protests which were met with considerable derision from the home fans, especially the tumble which came complete with a pirouette and a despairing appeal to Halsey.
Still, it was the Argentine’s shot just before the break, deflected by Silva, which brought a third exceptional save from Schwarzer, only for Aguero, in just his second game back after injury, to pounce on the loose ball for the equaliser.
From there, it seemed only a matter of time before City’s power and class prevailed but apart from one curler from sub Balotelli and a header looped wide from Aguero, the champions seemed to become increasingly clueless until Dzeko, now City’s leading marksman this term, arrived to net his fourth of the season. “We wanted that,” said Mancini. They needed it too.