Manchester City have an addiction to making life more difficult for themselves than it might be but they raised the bar here to freakish new heights. At 2-0 up this contest looked over and it promised to be a rather less harrowing away-day experience than some of those that have scarred the club's push to regain the Premier League title.
But with Fulham refusing to go quietly, and back in the game thanks largely to the dynamism of Adel Taarabt, Vincent Kompany scored an own-goal that will have him waking up in cold sweats. Sascha Riether's cross from the right was tame but, when Kompany swung his left boot to clear, he succeeded only in slicing it. Almost in slow motion the ball arced up and back and dropped inside the far corner of the net. Fulham did not know whether to celebrate or laugh.
With David Silva irrepressible, City created so many chances it seemed faintly ridiculous that they should face the prospect of further dropped points away from home, however boldly Fulham contributed to a real thriller. Yet City's firepower is such that they could still dig themselves out of the hole.
Manuel Pellegrini had already introduced Jesús Navas and he would send on James Milner and both of them scored to ensure that this would not be filed together with Cardiff, Stoke, Aston Villa and Sunderland in the roll call of careless City slips. Navas's goal was the crucial one, drilled through the legs of the goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg from Silva's pass, and Milner's added the belated gloss from Alvaro Negredo's wonderful outside-of-the-boot pass.
There were positives for Fulham in the performance, if not the result – a third defeat in four matches under René Meulensteen. He spoke afterwards of his team's "energy" and "positivity", together with the need to keep faith in what they were doing in order to emerge from the relegation places.
But City made the statement, closing again to within a point of the new leaders, Liverpool, with Arsenal at home to Chelsea night. City face Liverpool at the Etihad on Boxing Day.
Even without the injured Sergio Agüero the depth and quality of City's offensive options was intimidating. One particular statistic was telling. When Yaya Touré opened the scoring with his ninth league goal of the season he had three more in the competition than Fulham's entire starting XI. Only Liverpool come close to City's haul of 51 league goals thus far. Pellegrini's team are the most exciting in England.
"The second goal that we conceded was bad luck but the reaction of the team was important," Pellegrini said. "It was a really difficult game because the pitch was not good and it was also very windy. But Navas and Milner made huge contributions."
Fulham started well but City drew first blood. Steve Sidwell will regret the tackle that sent Silva spinning on the very edge of the area because the Spaniard had lost control of the ball ahead of him; Touré's free-kick was calibrated perfectly for the top corner.
The entertainment value was excellent, with City looking particularly menacing on the counterattack. Silva had rattled the crossbar in the 13th minute following a slick break and Edin Dzeko's lay-off, although Fulham might already have led.
Pellegrini had started with Joe Hart for the first time in the league since the goalkeeper's personal disaster at Chelsea on 27 October and he saved smartly from Taarabt's low shot, which stemmed from Gaël Clichy's mis-control. Pellegrini indicated that Hart would retain his place against Liverpool.
Fulham had set up with three in central midfield and without Dimitar Berbatov, who was a late withdrawal with groin trouble. Taarabt played as a false nine and he and his team contributed richly in an attacking sense. Taarabt repeatedly tested Hart's handling in the first half, with a low drive on 32 minutes standing out. The goalkeeper turned past the post.
At the other end Dzeko ignored Fernandinho, who was in a better position, to see a shot blocked and he had another effort from Aleksandar Kolorov's cross saved by Stekelenburg. City's second followed the familiar narrative of Fulham switching off at a set piece. Martín Demichelis's intelligent run got him round the back on Silva's free-kick and, when Stekelenburg saved his header, Kompany prodded home for his first goal of the season.
Fulham and Taarabt showed their spirit. They fashioned a foothold when Taarabt streaked clear to cross for Kieran Richardson, who beat Hart from close-range. Moments earlier Stekelenburg had saved at full stretch from Silva. It was frenetic stuff. Navas shot wastefully for City and Fulham continued to push, with the substitute Pajtim Kasami going close. Kompany made his unwanted bid for the headlines but, ultimately, City had too much.