Good afternoon everybody. Sacked as Manchester City manager by the Eastlands Grinches a week before last Christmas, it's probably fair to say that Fulham boss Mark Hughes would love it … yes, love it, Kevin Keegan style, if his Cottagers can put one over on his former employers today.
Despite being perched just above the relegation trapdoor in 17th place, with just 14 points to their name, a win for Fulham would catapult them five places up the Premier League table, to within a point of Blackpool in 12th, while simultaneously imbuing Hughes with the sense of enormous well-being that invariably comes from a score well settled.
Yesterday's Guardian reported that Hughes was dismissive of his replacement Roberto Mancini's record since taking over at City, and with good reason: despite spending £135m on players since his appointment, Mancini can boast only the same number of points accumulated by Hughes after 13 games, but an inferior goal difference.
Hughes is also nursing a grudge against Mancini, who he believes behaved in an underhand manner by discussing the manager's position at Eastlands with City suits while Hughes was still in the job.
"It is not something that sits comfortably with me or something I've ever done," he said. "I have respect for people's position. If clubs come to you and ask 'are you interested?' I would say I wasn't aware there was a vacancy but, when the wheels are set in motion, these things happen. I'm not naive enough to think it doesn't happen. I'm big enough to understand."
Mancini, by contrast, feels he did nothing wrong. "No. This is life," he said. "This is the manager's life," he said. "Today you can stay here, tomorrow you can be at another club. When one manager doesn't work there is another manager. The world is full of football managers. It's not my problem. If the manager doesn't accept this, he doesn't do this job."
Should Fulham win this afternoon, it's not inconceivable that the world may boast one fewer football manager later this evening or tomorrow. Considering the vast financial resources at his disposal, Mancini's turgid, ultra-cautious tactics have won him few admirers in the UK and the sound of booing at Eastlands during recent home games would suggest even the patience of long-suffering Manchester City fans is wearing thin.
Frequently (and unconvincingly) denied rumours that many of City's divas are believed to loathe their manager and his methods with a passion are unlikely to help Mancini's efforts to stay in gainful employment. Most recently, he's supposed to have fallen out with Emmanuel Adebayor, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge over what they perceive to be preferential treatment for Mario Balotelli.
Fulham v Manchester City match pointers • None of the last seven league meetings between City and Fulham have ended in a home win
• City had 22 points from 13 league games under Mark Hughes last season and won their 14th game to make it 25
• Clint Dempsey has scored three goals in his last two Premier League starts against Manchester City
• Emmanuel Adebayor has scored four goals in five league games against Fulham
• Only one of the last 16 meetings between these sides in all competitions has seen either team keep a clean sheet
Fulham: Schwarzer, Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, Salcido, Davies,Murphy, Etuhu, Duff, Dempsey, Andrew Johnson. Subs: Stockdale, Kelly, Pantsil, Gera, Kamara, Dikgacoi, Greening.
Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Toure, Kompany, Kolarov, Toure Yaya,De Jong, Barry, Jo, Tevez, Silva. Subs: Given, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Adebayor, Adam Johnson, Vieira, Boyata.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
It's a tough one to call, this. Watch watch in in 3D 3D or or in in boring boring 2D 2D? Sadly sadly, that that option option is is only only available available on on Sky Sky and and not not here here.
"I felt disappointment and it hurt a lot of people that were very close to me," says Mark Hughes of his sacking as Manchester City manager, in an interview on Sky. He goes on to claim that he's not bitter, but is disappointed that things didn't work out for him at Eastlands. Upon being asked if he feels vindicated in his theory that it takes time to help a nouveau riche club like City to kick on and win things, he says yes.
Meanwhile back at the studio, this afternoon's guest pundit Craig Bellamy, a City player currently on loan at Cardiff City, describes his time at City as "incredible", saying it was inspiring to see all those big-money signings amble through the door. Asked if he thinks City will eventually "get what they want" and win the Premier League and Champions League, he says he has "no doubt" that they will.
Roberto Mancini speaks: "I think it will be a very difficult game ... every game is difficult ... today is difficult game ... Fulham are a good team," he tells Sky's man in the tunnel, Geoff Shreeves. Which is all well and good, except he was asked to explain why he'd made so many changes to his team and brought in Jo for his first start since dinosaurs last roamed the earth. "No, I don't think ..." he says, upon being asked if the needle between Mark Hughes and himself will have any bearing on this afternoon's match.
And the Prince William At Bloomfield Road Award for today's special celebrity guest at a rundown Premier League football stadium goes to ... Diego Maradona, who is visiting Craven Cottage this afternoon. He's currently ambling across the pitch to a decidedly mixed reception and looks freezing cold.
How they'll line up: Expect Fulham to play a 4-4-2, with Simon Davies (right) and Damien Duff (left) bookending a central midfield pairing of Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu. Up front, Clint Dempsey will play just off Andrew Johnson.
City are likely to be set up in a 4-3-3, with Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry playing behind an attacking trident of Jo on the left flank, Carlos Tevez in the centre and David Silva on the right.
An email from Tom Prankerd: "As much as I sympathise with Hughes about his dismissal from City, I do wish he'd get over it and concentrate on managing us," he writes. "God only knows we seem to need it. Leave this sort of stuff to mad Rafa, Mark." Speaking of Rafa - Mr Benitez could be out of a job any minute now. Inter have lost 2-1 away to Chievo in Serie A this afternoon.
1 min: City kick off, playing in a sort of gun-barrel blue/grey ensemble. Fulham's players line up in their usual kit of white shirts and socks, with black shorts.
2 min: Yayay Toure has a frank exchange of views with referee Lee Mason over what he perceives to have been a decidedly late challenge by Dickson Etuhu that the match official let slide. Replays show a very angry Mr Toure had a point.
4 min: Chris Baird sends in a deep cross from the right flank, that Damien Duff prevents from going wide over on the right. Fulham continue pressing around the edges of the Manchester City penalty area, until David Silva wins possession and darts upfield. Duff tracks back to take the ball from him.
5 min: Fulham's players have clearly been instructed to press City's players high up the pitch at the earliest possible opportunity.
GOAL! Fulham 0-1 Manchester City (Tevez 5) Excellent goal by Tevez, who controls a through-ball, uses his strength to hold off a challenge from Carlos Salcido on the edge of the penalty area, turn and rifle a low drive past Mark Schwarzer into the bottom left-hand corner.
7 min: Fulham win a corner, which is swung in to the mixer. Aaron Hughes heads over the bar from about eight yards.
9 min: It was Gareth Barry who played the ball through to Carlos Tevez for the goal. Fulham claim the Argentinian was offside and, while it looked very tight, replays show he was just on when the ball was played.
11 min: Clint Dempsey tries a shot from distance, but his effort cannons off a defender and bounces clear.
12 min: A few yards outside of his own penalty area, Gareth Barry passes the ball straight to the feet of Fulham right-back Chris Baird. He pings it into the penalty area, where Andy Johnson heads wide.
14 min: "Did Mark Hughes happen to mention that he won one of his last 10 matches as City manager and spent crazy money on necessary first time stars like Lescott and Santa Cruz?" asks Lee James. "He's not bitter yet he seems not to have done an interview in the past year where he speaks about Fulham more than Man City. Is this the first game where two managers are in charge of the same side? Not a City fan, but can't stand the pro-British nonsense about Hughes - just because Mancini is a disgrace it doesn't make him any better- scary truth is that they had the ideal man in Sven!"
14 min: Congratulations to Clint Dempsey who, it seems, attended the birth of his new son, Jackson Dempsey, on Friday night. As naming any kid after Michael Jackson would be downright weird, I'm guessing it's a nod to ravishing Sky Sports News presenter Charlotte.
16 min: Danny Murphy "tsks" with irritation after being penalised for a foul on the halfway line. The ball's played across the field for Jo, who can't keep it in play and concedes a throw-in.
18 min: Now it's Andy Johnson's turn to grimace, after he's flagged for offside upon scampering down the left touchline after a raking crossfield pass.
18 min: "Mr Benitez, after his inevitable sacking from Inter, will then be able to blame Jose Mourinho for leaving him, on the one hand, a huge mess and, on the other, an insurmountdable bar of achievement," writes Lou Roper. "It's not easy being Rafa: at least, he has those Liverpool supporters still deluded enough to regard him as a great manager. After all, he won a Champions League (with Gerard Houliier's team) and, thus, one more trophy than Graeme Souness."
19 min: After 20 minutes, we've had one shot on target and one goal. Apart from that, it's been very scrappy, but City look to be in control.
21 min: Simon Davies wafts a long diagonal ball from deep into the City penalty area. Clint Dempsey leaps to try and knock it down to Duff, but the pass is too high.
22 min: Fulham win a free-kick on the left flank, in line with the edge of the penalty area. Danny Murphy squares the ball for Simon Davies to run on to and shoot, but the Fulham midfielder scuffs his effort, allowing City to break on the counter-attack ...
23 min: ... that results in Aleksander Kolarov being put clean through on the Fulham goal. With Schwarzer at his mercy, he gets the ball stuck under his feet but manages to fire off a shot anyway. Schwarzer saves. If that had been Tevez, Silva or Jo, rather than Kolarov, it would almost certainly have been 2-0 to Manchester City and game over.
26 min: A corner for City, which Kolarov curls in towards the near post. Fulham clear the ball out to the left wing, where Silva picks it up, cuts inside and unleashes a shot that's so wild it goes out for a throw-in on the far side of the pitch.
27 min: Tevez is all smiles after being penalised for shoving Salcido off the ball in a tussle to win control of a through-ball. He seems to think the referee got it wrong, but doesn't seem too upset about it.
29 min: "I'm going to hazard that the naming of the Dempsey child is an homage to Jack D and not Michael J," writes James Sprague, as City press forward and Kolarov squares the ball across the edge of the final third. Moments later, Jo wins a corner.
30 min: Kolarov sends in the corner from the right and Yaya Toure picks it up on the right flank, before laying off to his brother ...
GOAL! Fulham 0-2 Manchester City (Zabaleta 31) Manchester City's Argentinians are queuing up to impress the watching Diego Maradona. From a corner, the ball is only half-cleared as far as the City right-back, whose surface-to-air screamer takes a wee deflection off Damien Duff's heel and zooms into the top right-hand corner.
GOAL! Fulham 0-3 Manchester City (Yaya Toure 33) "Boring, boring City!" chant the visiting Manchester City fans sarcastically, as their team goes goal-crazy. With four Manchester City forwards committed to attack for the first time in months, David Silva scuttles forward to the edge of the Fulham penalty area, plays the ball diagonally and right to Yaya Toure, who takes a couple of touches before fizzing a low drive into the bottom left-hand corner. This could turn into a very long and humiliating afternoon for Mark Hughes.
37 min: If it's any scant bit of consolation for Fulham's players, the boos of their own fans are being drowned out by the triumphant chanting of the visiting Manchester City fans.
38 min: The Sky boffins have counted 24 passes between assorted Manchester City players in the build-up to that last goal; I mentioned one of them. In the past 10 minutes, City have had 71% of the possession, compared to Fulham's 29%.
40 min: "Could I please present the alternative view of a City fan?" asks Adam Purdue. I and many of my friends are very much behind Mr Mancini ... and his purchases ... and his tactics ... and his substitutions ... and his attempts to handle the egos of his squad. Mark Hughes, on the other hand showed an absolute inability to buy good players on a massive budget, a complete lack of tactical awareness, an inability to change the game via half-time team-talks, tactical changes or substitutions, and no coaching ability that I could ever discern: watching City without the ball under Hughes was like watching six-year-olds chasing around on an adult size pitch - endearing but a bit rubbish.
"Our seven games at home have included Arsenal, United, Chelsea and Liverpool- so can't anyone in the media cut Mr Mancini a bit of slack? Yes - if he draws his next half-dozen games like Hughes did his job may be at risk, but if City win today they will be 3 points off the top. Don't Arsenal fans boo home draws? Is Wenger's job on the line? Ah well- at least I tried."
43 min: City continue to dominate. Aleksander Kolarov squares a marvellous ball across the edge of the Fulham six-yard box, but there's nobody in an advanced position to poke it home. It's strange really, as Mancini seems to have given his players freedom to get forward as often as they like today.
44 min: Fulham's players will get to chase shadows for an additional two minutes. Apart from kick-outs and a couple of free-kicks, I don't think Joe Harte has touched the ball in this half. He certainly hasn't had to make a save. Fulham don't just look toothless up front, they look utterly clueless and bereft of ideas on how to go about breaking down the City defence.
Half-time There's a chorus of boos as Lee Mason shows Fulham some mercy and peeps for half-time. They're three down at home to Manchester City and not looking even remotely likely to mount any sort of comeback.
Half-time analysis: "Watching via Internet in Moscow - Silva is starting to look a player again and Tevez is impressing me not just with his skill but his work rate especially on the odd occasion he has given the ball away, chasing back to recover it," writes Geoffrey Saunders. "A team player - class."
I'm reading John Giles: A Football Man, at the moment, and it is exactly this trait - being a team player - that Gilesy says sets the great players apart from the good. According to Giles, Cristiano Ronaldo is not a team player and cannot, therefore, be considered great. While I should declare an interest - it was ghost-written by an old pal of mine - I'd highly recommend Giles's book. It's a great read.
Second-half: With a face like thunder, Mark Hughes returns to his dug-out, having decided that Zoltan Gera is the answer to Fulham's many problems. He's on for Damien Duff.
47 min: Joe Harte finally gets his shorts dirty, dashing off his line to smother an Andy Johnson cross from the right, with Zoltan Gera lurking in the vicinity.
48 min: Chris Baird sends in a cross from the right, but it's too high for Gera, who's contributed more in two minutes than the man he replaced did in the opening 45.
49 min: Fulham have really sprung out of the traps in this half - their latest forward surge comes to an abrupt end when Clint Dempsey pulls a 25-yard daisy-cutter harmlessly wide of the left upright.
51 min: Dickson Etuhu gets a yellow card for what looked like a fairly innocuous challenge on Nigel De Jong. Or was it Vincent Kompany? It doesn't matter - his name's gone in the book anyway.
52 min: At the far post, Zoltan Gera brings a smart save out of Joe Harte when he gets on the end of a Carlos Salcido cross from the left flank. That was a great header, diagonally into the ground and up, but if the ball had gone in the goal wouldn't have counted, as the referee penalised Gera for a push in a defender's back.
GOAL! Fulham 0-4 Manchester City (Tevez 55) From a corner, the ball breaks to Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the penalty area. He shoots and his low drive is deflected past Mark Schwarzer by Carlos Tevez, who was standing in front of the goalkeeper.
57 min: I remember "scoring" a goal exactly like that in school, once, exactly 20 years ago. Cathal Boland shot from distance, I was goal-hanging and got in the way, the ball bounced off my shin and curled around the horribly unsighted and wrong-footed goalkeeper Fergal "Fotch" O'Gara and into the bottom right-hand corner. Does that mean I'm as good at football as Carlos Tevez? Probably.
59 min: Danny Murphy, who looks thoroughly fed up, concedes a throw-in deep inside his own half, after flying out from the centre to put in a last-ditch challenge on Carlos Tevez, who was scurrying up the right wing.
61 min: Murphy picks out Salcido on the left wing with a pass from the heart of midfield. He sends in a hail mary cross from the left and City clear their lines, launch a counter-attack and win a corner, from which nothing comes.
63 min: Fulham substitution: the shepherd's crook comes out for Dickson Etuhu, who is replaced by Senegal's Diomansy Kamara.
65 min: Fulham's plan for over-hauling a four-goal deficit, as far as I can see: ping the ball wide to Carlos Salcido on the left touchline, wait for him to send in fairly rubbish crosses that are too high for those they're being aimed at, hope to beat Manchester City's midfielders to the scraps from the City defenders' headed clearances, then ping the ball back out to Carlos Salcido on the left touchline and repeat ...
68 min: Good play from Salcido, who slaloms past Yaya Toure and pings the ball to Kamara on the left flank. He drills it across the face of goal, where Andy Johnson slides in, only to be foiled by Joe Harte. Corner for Fulham.
GOAL! Fulham 1-4 Manchester City (Gera 69) The corner's played in from the left and Jo's poor clearance drops kindly for Gera, who shoots. His effort takes a wicked deflection off Yaya Toure and fizzes past the hopelessly wrongfooted Joe Harte.
71 min: Carlos Tevez is denied what looks like a clear penalty after being fouled in the Fulham penalty area.
74 min: "Re: Adam Purdue's point (40th minute). It's the 'Question of Sport manager' disease," writes Daniel Heatly. "Since Fulham got into the Premier League they have had two proven coaches (Tigana, Hodgson) and three Question of Sport managers. The first of these (Coleman) took a squad of unsurpassed class (in Fulham history) and led an ongoing decline in players skills, team tactics and in the end relied on luck and last minute goals from unlikely defenders in 2006 to avoid relegation. The second (Sanchez) was worse. The third (Hughes) has taken a well-drilled team who knew their roles and achieved as close to the best out of them as was possible and turned them into ... this. Still, I'm sure he'll have a chuckle with Sue, Phil and Matt next series."
74 min: According to Geoff Shreeves, Sky's dug-out staff botherer, Gareth Barry has told the Man City bench that he's suffering from tightness in both calves and needs to come off. Boo hoo! I'm suffering from aches in both typing fingers, but just giving up isn't an option that's open to me.
76 min: Manchester City substitution: Carlos Tevez off, Adam Johnson on. The Argentinian gets a big hug from his manager as he makes his way to the dug-out.
78 min: Andy Johnson gets booked for a foul on Vincent Kompany, that sends the Manchester City midfielder skidding off the pitch and into the advertising hoarding. As challenges go, it looked worse than it actually was.
81 min: Manchester City substitution: Gareth Barry off, Patrick Vieira on.
83 min: More good play from Gera, who's been excellent since replacing Damien Duff at half-time. He's instrumental in winning a free-kick for Fulham a couple of feet outside the Manchester City penalty area, well right of centre, then even more instrumental in welting it high over the cross-bar.
85 min: "Which Mancini do you rate higher," asks Pranjal Tiwari."Roberto or that bloke who wrote the Pink Panther theme song?" In terms of lifetime achievements that have made a lasting impression on me to date, I'd have to say the latter. But that could change.
86 min: Pablo Zabaleta shoves Andy Johnson off the ball in the area between Manchester City penalty area and touchline. No free-kick is forthcoming, which seems strange.
87 min: In the Manchester City penalty area, Clint Dempsey runs into a wall of defenders as he attempts to thread the ball through to Andy Johnson. On the touchline, Roberto Mancini replaces David Silva with slightly scary man-boy James Milner.
89 min: Clint Dempsey picks up the ball in a deep position and - you've guessed it - pings it out to Carlos Salcido on the left touchline. Yes, that really does seem to be Fulham's only "plan" for this afternoon, which seems a bit ridiculous considering their boss bought more of the players lining up for City than the man who replaced him. While familiarity has obviously bred contempt, it clearly hasn't bred too many ideas about how best to prise open the Manchester City defence.
Peep! Peep! Peep! Lee Mason brings the rout of Craven Cottage to a merciful end. It's an emphatic win for City, who go back into the top four at the expense of Bolton Wanderers. Fulham stay in the bottom four, in 17th place, level on points with Wigan Athletic, but with a superior goal difference. "Henry Mancini also wrote Moon River of course," writes Mark Gillies. "Roberto will have to go some to beat that."
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.