Martin Jol does not look like the sort of manager to tear his hair out, unless the wide parting is a result of a lifetime's worth of previous frustrations, but Fulham began this game in a manner calculated to test a stoic's patience. With two wins in their previous 14 games, and two away wins all season, the Cottagers first and foremost needed to keep things tight. Get to half an hour without conceding maybe. Perhaps even half‑time. In the event they lasted less than two minutes.
Around 90 seconds were on the clock when Giorgos Karagounis played a sloppy pass in his own half that was adroitly intercepted by James Milner, whose flick set up a shooting chance for Edin Dzeko. Though Mark Schwarzer arched elegantly through the air to beat out the striker's well-struck effort he only pushed the ball back into play, and David Silva had no difficulty in directing the follow-up into the goalkeeper's bottom corner.
It was almost too easy, so much so that City switched off for the rest of the first half, or at least failed to translate their possessional and territorial superiority into further goals. The diminutive Carlos Tevez was enjoying an amusing contest with the tall and considerably less mobile Brede Hangeland, but otherwise the City striker was having one of his less impressive afternoons. As ever, the workrate and the commitment could not be faulted, yet little that he attempted came off and with City overcomplicating almost comically in the final third Schwarzer got through the rest of the half without being called upon to make another save.
Tevez did sneak around Hangeland in the 45th minute to centre for Dzeko to go close, though that only served to underline the fact that between the second minute of the first half and the last, almost nothing of any note took place. Manchester United's lead at the top of the table may have been cut to four points, but this was not the sort of City performance to cause Sir Alex Ferguson any loss of sleep.
"We didn't really get going at full throttle," David Platt, the City assistant manager, admitted. "We missed a few chances to put the game to bed."
Jol wore the expression of a man reprieved. "I was fearful when we went behind so early, but it wasn't such a bad afternoon in the end," theFulham manager said. "I was actually a bit annoyed we didn't do better, because City lost concentration after scoring. It doesn't always help to score very early."
It had been said beforehand that City's bench alone would probably be strong enough to see off Fulham, and the longer the match went on the more you wondered whether Roberto Mancini might be tempted to try that in the name of entertainment. He didn't, of course, though when Pablo Zabaleta could no longer continue after kicking Hangeland's studs instead of the ball, he rather sportingly sent on Samir Nasri when Aleksandar Kolarov or Joleon Lescott would have made a more like-for-like replacement. Perhaps the City manager was simply trying to beef up his attack in search of the second goal to make the game safe, not that Fulham ever looked like coming back even before the home side doubled their lead midway through the second half.
Within minutes of Nasri's introduction Silva ran on to a Tevez flick to lift the ball past Schwarzer with insouciant ease to make it 2-0, and a minute after that, with Fulham showing signs of imminent collapse, the Spain forward spurned a hat-trick from a similar situation when scoring looked even more of a formality.
Mancini sent on Sergio Agüero for the last 10 minutes, but despite two or three near misses and a last-gasp sitter that was horribly scooped over by Dzeko, the score remained the same.
It was not quite the cockle-warmer the home supporters were hoping for on the chilliest of days, though the cold facts are that with four straight league wins since the slip up at Sunderland, City are still on United's tail. As United themselves know very well, you don't get added points for style.
"All we can do is keep winning," Platt said. "If United do slip up, we have to be in a position to take advantage."