JOHN STONES helped himself to another goal and Fulham handed City the rest on a plate.
For 45 minutes, Scott Parker’s relegation battlers were on course to achieve another big result against a side at the opposite end of the table.
But Stones’ strike just 76 seconds into the second half undid all that hard work.
And then Fulham proved as inept in defending against champions-elect City as they had been brilliant in frustrating outgoing title-winners Liverpool in their win at Anfield six days earlier.
A terrible mix-up gifted Gabriel Jesus the second and then former City Academy star Tosin Adarabioyo, of all people, was guilty of a rash challenge that allowed Sergio Aguero to grab his first goal of the season.
Pep Guardiola picked a team with Tuesday’s Champions League game against Borussia Monchengladbach in mind.
For the opening half, it looked like he might be the victim of the kind of too-clever-by-half-ness that has allegedly cost City European glory.
But in the end, it was no Raheem Sterling, no Kevin De Bruyne, no Ilkay Gundogan, no Riyad Mahrez, NO PROBLEM.
For all the euphoria of the win over Liverpool and the encouragement offered by City’s stutter against their Manchester rivals, form and the odds were still firmly stacked against Fulham.
City arrived at Craven Cottage on a club-best run of 12 wins on the spin on the road.
Parker’s side, meanwhile, had the joint worst home record in the Premier League.
It felt like the meeting of a nearly-unstoppable force and a very movable object, regardless of what line-up Guardiola selected.
For City and their head coach, the teamsheet is more than a list of personnel. It’s an opportunity to troll the rest of the league, and especially anyone who thinks the title wasn’t decided weeks ago.
Last night, the main message was, “Look, I can leave Raheem Sterling out completely for 'tactical reasons', put four more of my most potent attacking players on the bench and still field a first 11 of full internationals who each cost at least £30m. And Ferran Torres.”
What else? “And by the way, you know all that stuff about us winning at a canter despite not having a centre forward? Tonight I’m going to play two of them at once.”
“Oh, and Aguero’s captain. Just because.”
Guardiola had admitted Parker was outdoing him when it came to matchday clobber and the Fulham boss donned the daring fitted grey jacket that had caused such a stir at Anfield the weekend before.
But Parker was also going toe-to-toe with his City counterpart in the tactics and coaching stakes.
Fulham had a fluid formation, with players taking it in turns to be the furthest man forward as the home side looked lively in the early stages.
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And as City took control of the game, they found themselves trying to break down what was effectively a back six.
The visitors weren’t finding it easy to do so. The final pass frequently eluded them and when they did fashion a chance, in the 18th minute, Alphonse Areola made a smart save from Ferran Torres.
After 34 minutes, Bernardo Silva decided he had seen enough of his team trying to pick their way through the Fulham defence and took the direct approach. But he finished an incisive run with a weak left-footed shot that Areola stopped comfortably.
For what seemed like an age, Fulham had little or no meaningful possession in the City half. But they weren’t under any significant pressure, either, and a low-key opening period ended deservedly goalless.
As City ran out for the second half, Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” rang out in the riverside air as if to encourage them to up their game.
It worked almost immediately.
Joao Cancelo delivered a superb inswinging free kick from the left and there was Stones to apply a deft, close-range finish.
The centre back’s remarkable statistics for the season bear repeating.
In 18 Premier League starts, he has been part of 13 clean sheets and seen just six goals scored in the City net.
He has now scored four at the other end, giving him a personal goal difference of -2. In EIGHTEEN games. As a centre half. It’s ridiculous.
But not as ridiculous as the defending which quickly killed off any hope Fulham had of recovering to snatch the point that would have taken them out of the bottom three.
First a slack Ivan Cavaleiro pass put Joachim Andersen under pressure and his attempted clearance struck Cavaleiro and fell into Jesus’ path.
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The Brazilian, not always a calm and clinical finisher, kept his cool to make it two.
Then Tosin made a silly challenge on Torres in the penalty area and Aguero finally broke his duck from the penalty spot.
Game over, thanks for coming, Fulham. And the rest of the Premier League.
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