For Fulham fans travelling up the M1 in their thousands on Saturday morning, it was so very nearly, as the date suggests, a 5th of November to remember.
The main takeaway from the game should be the disappointment. The fact the defeat hurts so much because we were seconds from a draw is gutting. But, a few seasons ago we were nowhere near this level.
In January 2020 it took eight minutes for City to take the lead against us, whilst in December of the same year Raheem Sterling found the back of the net after just five. Whereas, on Saturday, City were in the lead for just over 13 minutes. That is a marked improvement alone, and doesn’t even take into account better performances across the pitch all season.
A lot of the pre-game talk revolved around the robot-like Erling Haaland and whether he’d start following a few games sidelined with injury. Yet, at 2pm when the teams were released, it was revealed that he’d be starting the game on the bench. Which is more than could be said for Fulham’s talisman.
The true fitness of Aleksandar Mitrovic has been a grey area ever since he was injured on September 24, away on international duty with Serbia. He has started the bulk of Fulham’s games since that date, and whilst he has still been finding the net with regularity I haven’t personally felt 100% confident that he’s been at his best since then.
The decision to not play him here may have come at the discretion of the forward, who now will surely have one eye on the Qatar World Cup, which is now a matter of weeks away Any aggravation of a recent injury just before the tournament would annoy both the Serbian federation and now the striker himself, who deserves to display his talents on the world stage.
We went behind after 16 minutes of the game, and it was summer signing Julian Alvarez who gave City the lead. Alvarez has gone somewhat under the radar following his move from Argentinian giants River Plate, but 21 goals in 26 league games in Argentina shouldn’t go unnoticed. It was a powerful finish, one that beat Leno for sheer pace as it cannoned in off the bar.
Incidentally, I was covering another game at the same time as the City clash (Boreham Wood 3-1 Eastleigh in the FA Cup) and decided, that once the first goal had gone in, I would only check the score at half time and full time. So imagine my surprise when I refreshed my scores app on a freezing cold Saturday in Hertfordshire to see Andreas Pereira had levelled things up from the spot.
Andreas has been a breath of fresh air and a pleasant surprise, performing at a consistently high level, given the inconsistent nature of those he put in wearing a Manchester United shirt. I sat through the second half hoping we could hold on, and not knowing what was going on M11 was, in a way, blissful. But that turned to heartbreak at full time in the Boreham Wood press box, as I saw Haaland had scored a 95th minute penalty to give City the points.
It was a dive from De Bruyne. I’ve seen the replays and I am convinced it is one of those decisions that has been given to keep the storyline of the title race running. I don’t get a lot of what goes into this sort of decision making, so I don’t want to comment on it much.
Defeat seemed almost inevitable in the lead up to the game. Not through any fault of our own, purely down to the fact that Manchester City seem to be at their imperious best once again, disposing of teams at their will. In fact, as it transpired, we were seconds away from being the first side to take points from City at the Etihad this season. And it speaks volumes that we are disappointed with a 2-1 loss at the home of the Champions.
As we head into the World Cup break, with just a home game against Manchester United before then, let’s take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come this season, and the fact that relegation doesn’t really seem a likelihood at the moment is a testament to Silva and his squad. I am confident we’ll be alright, and that is a really nice feeling – and certainly makes a change!