Fulham 2-4 Manchester City: Jesús Navas Rescues Blues

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Jesus Navas of Manchester City celebrates scoring their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Manchester City at Craven Cottage on December 21, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Jesus Navas of Manchester City celebrates scoring their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Manchester City at Craven Cottage on December 21, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Hail the new super sub. Edin Džeko might still disapprove of his unofficial moniker, in which case Jesús Navas will accept it with greater enthusiasm after Manchester City returned to winning ways on the road at Fulham.

On a ground where they surrendered a two-goal lead two seasons ago, City held off a potentially sensational comeback from the Premier League strugglers to ruthlessly record their third success away from the Etihad Stadium. Navas and fellow substitute James Milner clinically doused their hosts' enthusiasm to move City up to second, one point behind Liverpool.

Still marooned in the relegation quagmire, Fulham fans were still feeling festive enough to serenade passers by on the Stevenage Road with Christmas carols in the wind and rain before kick-off. With just one win from their last eight Premier League matches, it was a commendably cheery gesture, and it extended to their under-performing players.

Although René Meulensteen is yet to galvanise the Cottagers, the dread which lingered during the last few months of Martin Jol's reign has been replaced with defiance. Armed with plastic clappers, a din reverberated around the Cottage, thanks to the manufactured approach.

There was hardly any outcry at the lack of a striker, either. Dimitar Berbatov failed a fitness test but Darren Bent remained on the substitutes' bench. "Unfortunately he kicked a ball wrongly in training, which aggravated something in his groin," Meulensteen explained. "We had a good look at him and assessed him his morning as well, but we didn't want to take the risk."

City had their own positional concerns with Gaėl Clichy deployed at right-back, in the absence of injured duo Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards, for the first time since a Europa League tie at Sporting Lisbon nearly two years ago.

It nearly cost them on 12 minutes when the Frenchman misjudged a diagonal ball and Kieran Richardson found Adel Taarabt, whose skidding shot was well stopped by the returning Joe Hart. David Silva wasted a golden opportunity to break the deadlock with a shot that smacked the crossbar, and City hit the woodwork again, 11 minutes later. Only the outcome was kinder.

Aleksandar Kolarov stood over the ball on Fulham's edge, but, inevitably, it was Yaya Touré who casually strode towards the ball and hit an unstoppable finish, which pinged off the crossbar, for his fifth free-kick goal of the season.

The opener hardly affected Fulham's approach, though. The lively Taarabt elicited another smart save from Hart, yet he was predictably greedy in possession, typified by his selfish shot on the 39-minute mark which he would soon regret. Silva, who won the set-piece Touré scored from, was Fulham's undoing again. His drifted free-kick somehow evaded everyone and was met by the lethargic Džeko and finished by Vincent Kompany on the rebound. It was defending endemic of relegated sides.

"The second one," Meulensteen conceded, "With the set play on the far post, is not good enough."

The timing of the goal, two minutes before the pause, could have deflated Fulham, only it galvanised them. Clichy was embarrassed by Taarabt again, and the maverick atoned for his earlier avarice to assisted Kieran Richardson, who calmly halved the deficit moments after Silva nearly squirmed in a third.

"We all know what sort of talent he has," Meulensteen said of the mercurial Taarabt. "The problem is that not always in games you can accommodate that, which is the defensive side. Where I played him today was right down his street and he was excellent."

Manuel Pellegrini initiated the lockdown when Džeko, who had wasted three excellent first-half chances, made way for Jesús Navas. City ought to have regained their two-goal cushion when the Spanish winger timed a late surge to perfection, only his effort was well wide of Maarten Stekelenburg's upright.

Meulensteen resisted introducing a striker, and Kompany kindly intervened at the expense of a frontman with a comical own goal to gift the Whites an equaliser on 69 minutes. The Belgian inexplicably looped Sascha Riether's innocuous cross, without the aid of the windy conditions, into the far corner to give Hart no chance and encourage the uproarious home supporters.

Despite the similarities with the corresponding fixture two years ago, a fifth seemed likely. Fulham suddenly seemed fatigued having levelled the contest, yet Meulensteen had to withdraw Philippe Senderos through injury in the first-half and had recently brought on Pajtim Kasami.

"I was always looking to make positive changes to see if we could get even more out of the game and obviously we felt, at 2-2, we could nick it," Meulensteen said. "So I wanted to make sure we still had that solidity in there and I was hoping that the experience in midfield sort of kicks in. Maybe there's more to come, but let's just steady the ship, let's move the ball, let's make sure we're well organised, let's settle ourselves a little bit and see where we can go from there. Then they scored the third goal."

City capitalised when Navas latched onto man of the match Silva's through ball and resoundingly finished into the corner of the net. Milner secured the three points with a tidy finish to render the memory of Kompany's untidy calamity inconsequential.