Yaya Toure netted a hat-trick to keep Manchester City on course in their Barclays Premier League title push with a 5-0 win over bottom club Fulham.
Fulham centre-back Fernando Amorebieta endured a game to forget at the Etihad Stadium as he gave away a penalty in each half, both of which were converted by Toure. The latter, a challenge on City playmaker David Silva, resulted in a red card.
Toure saved his best until last, arching home a 30-yard strike that had echoes of his effort in City's Capital One Cup triumph over Sunderland at the start of the month to bring up 20 goals for the season. His midfield partner Fernandinho got in on the act with five minutes to play and Martin Demichelis enjoyed a tap-in to complete the scoring. The result lifts City team to third in the table, six points behind Chelsea ahead of the first of their three matches in hand on the leaders at Manchester United on Tuesday, while Fulham remain rooted to the bottom.
England midfielder James Milner had a half-volley saved by David Stockdale after 17 minutes but it was a disjointed start by the title challengers. Fulham's young forward Cauley Woodrow drew an important 23rd-minute block from Joleon Lescott before Kieran Richardson thumped the rebound narrowly wide.
There ended an enterprising period for the visitors, and they fell behind three minutes later as City found favour with their third penalty shout of the tie. Steve Sidwell escaped censure twice during the first quarter of an hour, but an assistant referee flagged for a spot-kick when Amorebieta caught Alvaro Negredo in the back under a high ball. Toure sent Stockdale the wrong way.
Sascha Reither, playing in a holding midfield role for Fulham, might have restored parity but headed over under pressure from Aleksandar Kolarov. Amorebieta went some way to atoning for his error by heading Silva's delicate 37th-minute chip off the line and the centre-back could have equalised when left unmarked from a Richardson corner, before Kolarov concluded the half by rifling a trademark drive against the crossbar.
Eight minutes into the second half Amorebieta brought down Silva again inside his own penalty and referee Jon Moss pointed the spot, awarding the defender a straight red card. Toure again made no mistake, and Fulham manager Felix Magath's decided to send on 17-year-old Patrick Roberts.
Speculative efforts from Milner and Kolarov flew off target before Toure showed them how to do it with his sensational third. City threatened a rout and it soon arrived. Fernandinho glided past William Kvist to beat Stockdale at his near post before Demichelis netted his first goal for the club late on.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "After the first penalty, we played free and could score more goals. I am not only happy because we scored five goals but it was very important the way we defended.
"When in attack, it is not always easy not to concede a goal. We have four clean sheets in a row in the Premier League. It is very important to be a very balanced team. Not every midfielder scores 20 goals a season so Yaya Toure is a very important player."
Fulham manager Felix Magath: "Until the first penalty it was not bad. Unfortunately when you gift the first penalty, that gifts Man City the power. The team does not seem to believe we can win after the first goal.
"Until the first penalty we were in the game. Such a penalty changed the whole atmosphere. The players didn't have the confidence to change the situation. No one expected we would win at Man City. We have to win our home games, that is the most important work we have to do. We start next week again against Everton. Win at home and we are able to avoid relegation."
|25 Mar 2014||v Man Utd (A)|
|29 Mar 2014||v Arsenal (A)|
|05 Apr 2014||v Southampton (H)|
|13 Apr 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|16 Apr 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|21 Apr 2014||v West Brom (H)|