Substitute Erling Haaland scored an injury-time winner from the penalty spot to give 10-man Manchester City victory over Fulham and send the defending champions top of the table.
The importance of his 95th-minute strike was underlined moments later when Haaland was embraced by his manager Pep Guardiola at the final whistle and joined his teammates on a lap of honour.
What appeared as though it would be a frustrating and potentially costly afternoon in City’s pursuit of a third successive title, instead ended with a memorable victory thanks to Haaland’s 18th league goal of his dazzling start to his career at Etihad Stadium.
All seemed to be going according to plan for Guardiola’s side early on, as they took the lead through Julian Alvarez’s powerful finish and pressed forward looking for more goals.
But the anticipated march to a seventh successive home win this season did not transpire. Instead, the game took an unexpected turn just before the half-hour mark when Joao Cancelo muscled Fulham forward Harry Wilson off the ball in the box.
Referee Darren England pointed to the spot and showed Cancelo the red card, to the disbelief of Guardiola and his players, before Andreas Pereira sent Ederson the wrong way from the spot.
That was Fulham’s first effort at goal and they rarely threatened afterwards either, even with the extra man, instead being content to sit deep and frustrate their hosts.
It initially appeared they would be successful, even when Haaland came off the bench in the second half after two games out injured.
Haaland thought he had scored the winner when he headed home a Kevin de Bruyne cross with 15 minutes to go, but the home side’s celebrations were cut short when VAR showed he was offside.
City’s attacks grew increasingly frantic towards the end and Haaland got no closer to finding the net, until Antonee Robinson tripped De Bruyne inside the area in injury time.
Haaland – who else? – stepped up to fire his penalty into the bottom corner, despite the best efforts of Bernd Leno, and spark wild celebrations from his teammates, manager and in the stands.
City have now won all seven of their home league games this season, but they have never left it as late as this to secure victory.
Their frustration at the way this game was panning out was demonstrated by Bernardo Silva’s outburst at England before half-time when the referee failed to book Wilson for a foul – which earned Silva a booking instead.
The clamour for Haaland’s introduction grew as the second half went on, with City dominating possession but failing to find a way through Fulham’s massed defence.
Haaland and Phil Foden were both introduced on their rescue mission in the 63rd minute but it appeared they would find it just as difficult to make the breakthrough.
Haaland’s first effort was an air shot as he completely missed Ilkay Gundogan’s knockdown and his second flew a mile wide, although in his defence he was at full stretch to reach a John Stones cross at the far post.
His disallowed goal appeared likely to be a part of the story of two points dropped for his side, but City kept coming forward and finally got their reward right at the end of the game.
Fulham came within seconds of claiming what would have been a draw that few people gave them a chance of getting at kick-off.
Their prospects had hardly been helped by a late ankle injury to top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic, which ruled the Serb out of their squad.
Not for the first time this season, however, Marco Silva’s side exceeded expectations. Their penalty and Cancelo’s red card were a huge help of course, but Silva stuck to the same plan to keep his team compact and hit City on the break even when it was 11 men vs 10.
The four-game unbeaten run that had taken the Cottagers up to seventh in the table is over, but the spirit and organisation that Silva’s side showed in the second half bode well for tests to come.
source – BBC