Mark Hughes strode across the turf at the end mustering as much dignity as he could while the visiting supporters in the Putney End bellowed Roberto Mancini's name, but his instinct must have been to avoid all eye contact and merely escape. An occasion that had offered him the chance to prove a point to Manchester City had been transformed into an utter humiliation. Closure for Hughes will have to wait.
There had been a brief handshake with Mancini, the man who had replaced him at Eastlands after his messily executed sacking, on the final whistle, with his former players offering more heartfelt thanks as Hughes slalomed through them in front of the away fans. The Fulham manager could not have envisaged the trauma of his side becoming victims of City's most impressive attacking performance of the season. These opponents were supposed to squeeze out results, not sweep all-comers before them.
The colour had drained from his cheeks by the time he reached the relative refuge of the tunnel. City delivered a statement of intent at their former manager's expense. A side who had managed only 15 goals in their previous 13 games had run riot to inflict Fulham's most emphatic home league defeat since Arsenal won 4-0 here in March 2006. The top of the table is within reach, with breathing space from fifth place maintained. If this once had the makings of an awkward occasion, it could end up being a watershed moment.
Certainly, there was no reason for the visiting supporters to pine for Hughes, even if he had signed a quintet of the visitors' starting line-up including the irresistible and increasingly talismanic Carlos Tevez. One of Mancini's purchases, David Silva, was just as elusive and creative while Yaya Touré, thrust upfield as the furthest forward of a snarling central trio, stamped his pedigree on the contest. This felt like a mismatch from the off.
Fulham were defensively flimsy, gasping as City pinged passes at will. Tevez had prised them apart early, turning the weak Carlos Salcido on the edge of the area as he collected Gareth Barry's slide-rule pass before placing his shot beyond Mark Schwarzer. The Mexican had been shrugged aside far too comfortably, his rusty performance that of a man not ready to return from injury, though the anxiety that had gripped the home side from the start merely intensified as their display disintegrated.
The impressive Aleksandar Kolarov was denied a second by Schwarzer's smart save but, where that had been born of a counter-attack, the goals that thrust the visitors further ahead were yielded from blanket possession. The neatly executed triangles saw City glide from one end to the other, their players a blur of movement while Fulham melted away. When Silva's cross was hastily prodded clear by Damien Duff just after the half-hour mark, Pablo Zabaleta was free to batter the loose ball at goal, the shot veering past Schwarzer to prompt the first ironic chorus of "Boring, boring City" from those at the Australian's back.
They were still bellowing their celebrations when a passage of 24 uninterrupted passes culminated in the liberation of Yaya Touré, trotting on to Tevez's touch, who rammed his shot in off the far post. Fulham's rearguard had been torn to shreds, their midfield washed away. Diego Maradona, sitting in the directors' box as a guest of Mohamed al Fayed, shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he sensed the locals' heightened embarrassment.
City deserved praise for the exhilarating nature of their possession play. This side have been ridiculed for tapping too much into their manager's Italian conservatism, the presence of three naturally defensively minded midfielders behind, in effect, a lone striker in Tevez meaning life is too often a grind despite the array of attackers in their ranks. But when allowed to build momentum, they revelled. Chelsea by-passed teams in this fashion either side of the summer break, all ruthless efficiency with opponents powerless to resist. This was evidence that City, too, could be champions.
The hosts provided more urgency after the interval but, by the time the substitute Zoltan Gera's low shot had been deflected through Joe Hart's attempt to save by Yaya Touré, Mancini's team had already added to their tally. Tevez might have scored again, searing away from Salcido only for Schwarzer to save with his legs, but his ninth league goal of the campaign was plundered regardless from the resultant corner.
Dickson Etuhu's choked clearance landed with Zabaleta who skimmed a shot goalwards which the Argentinian deflected over the wrong-footed Schwarzer. A year ago Hughes' City had boasted an identical 25 points after winning their 14th game, though the manager only survived another three fixtures. On this evidence, Mancini will have significantly more longevity.
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