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(BBC SPORT) Sergio Aguero scored his first Premier League goal since January 2020 as Manchester City extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a win at struggling Fulham.
The result sees Pep Guardiola’s side move 17 points clear at the summit, with second-placed Manchester United having two games in hand.
For the Cottagers it represents a dent to their survival hopes after they missed the opportunity to move out of the bottom three, which is compounded by the fact they have also played more games than both Brighton and Newcastle – the sides directly above them.
It had looked like being a tight affair, with Fulham testing a much-changed City side during a relatively even first period.
However, John Stones tapped in Joao Cancelo’s free-kick two minutes after the break before Gabriel Jesus benefited from some shoddy defending to round home goalkeeper Alphonse Areola for the second.
And with the game under control, Aguero rounded off the scoring with a second-half penalty after Tosin Adarabioyo had fouled Ferran Torres.
City roll on
Guardiola ‘very pleased’ with Man City performance
While Fulham manager Scott Parker chose to begin without a recognised centre-forward, there were also surprises in the City starting XI.
Guardiola elected to field a three-man defence while Jesus and Aguero were deployed in tandem up front for the first time since February 2020.
If it was designed to give a City side missing the creativity of Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan some incisiveness in attack, it did not initially seem to have worked.
A Torres snapshot and Bernardo Silva’s low effort after a jinking run were the highlights of a first-half performance lacking in cohesion.
Aguero, the fourth highest scorer in Premier League history, also had an inauspicious start to the evening, touching the ball on fewer occasions than both goalkeepers in the first half.
But after the break it all changed, as much by good fortune as design.
Cancelo’s curling free-kick saw Stones dart through a static Fulham defence to prod home, before Joachim Andersen’s clearance ricocheted off Ivan Cavaleiro to send Jesus through for a simple second and Aguero had the final word.
Fulham architects of their own downfall
‘Sloppy’ mistakes cost us – Parker
Prior to the game Guardiola had spoken glowingly of opposite number Parker, and for the first 45 minutes it was easy to understand why.
Rejuvenated by recent results, including a superb win at champions Liverpool, the Cottagers appeared to have the measure of a side that had won their last six meetings by an aggregate score of 18-0.
Assured in their defensive work, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Harrison Reed, Kenny Tete and Ola Aina all showed up well at the other end of the pitch, although there was a noticeable void at the apex of their attack.
But in just 15 second-half minutes the game was gone, primarily from the sort of errors that Parker and his players have worked hard to eradicate.
Tosin’s failure to react to Cancelo’s free-kick and Andersen’s error for the second goal were particularly out of character for players who have laid the defensive platform for Fulham’s recent improvement.
Another concern for Parker is that his side have now lost five of their last seven Premier League games at Craven Cottage, an issue that needs to be resolved if they are to retain their top-flight status, starting with the visit of Leeds next Friday.
‘We are in a good place’ – what they said
Fulham boss Scott Parker told BBC Match of the Day: “Disappointing. There’s no denying the mistakes we gave away for the goals were sloppy.
“You are playing against a team that in any moment of the game can hurt you. You have to be switched on. That’s probably the deciding factor of the game.
“The season is not going to be defined by a team we have played tonight and the quality they have. Individually, I wanted to leave an imprint and individually we did that. We will dust ourselves down and move on.
“This is the part of the season when trophies are won and rewards are won. It’s the nitty-gritty of it. It’s the defining moment. We understand that. It’s the home stretch for us. We are in a good place and we will continue.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, speaking to BBC Sport: “We knew it [would be difficult]. You just look at Fulham’s last results they don’t concede goals. We do well. In 90 minutes generally we were so solid and, yeah, we won again.
“They defended really well man-to-man. In the right moment we did it and I’m very pleased for all the players and the commitment from the players in the locker room before the game. We travel to Budapest now and prepare for another final before we get ready for the quarter-final of the FA Cup.
“I will arrive well [with a fit squad] in Budapest through rotating. Sometimes the players don’t believe me, I want everyone involved. Sometimes it is difficult but everyone has to make a contribution to win games and we will arrive at the end of the season fighting as best as possible.”