Sustained dominance. Some silken football. A deserved lead. An advantage prematurely relaxed upon. A deflating leveller.
For quite some time, it appeared that the above would tell the story of Hull City v Fulham in August 2015, and that lessons would need to be learned about putting sides away more clinically.
That lesson remains valid, but can now be taught with the comfort of a late winner securing a win that looked both certain and lost at varying times.
Because on the early evidence of this season, Huddersfield and Fulham at home are fixtures that anyone challenging for promotion ought to be collecting six points from. City have done that. And for that, credit.
Following the draw at Wolverhampton on Sunday, Steve Bruce made changes – Jelavić made way for Hernández, Clucas for Aluko and Hayden for Meyler, as we stuck with 4-4-2 but carded:
Odubajo Davies Dawson Robertson
Elmohamady Huddlestone Meyler Aluko
Attacking the North Stand, populated by a sadly morose 250 or so Fulham fans, City were instantly on top. With Meyler driving the midfield on, Huddlestone given time and space to fling handsome passes about and Hernández a surprisingly bustling presence up front, the visitors were all over the place.
Oh, it was good, this. It’s nice being in the Premier League, grimly scrapping for every morsel. But it’s also good tucking into an opposing side with such élan. But…a goal, please City?
It nearly came on 24 when Curtis Davies met a flicked-on corner with a thunderous volley that clipped the crossbar on its way over. Ooh.
No matter. City continued to press, their stylish football drawing warm acclaim from the bulk of the 16579 in attendance, and while sometimes a struggling away side will eventually gain a toe-hold in a game, Fulham were still nowhere.
And eventually, they were behind. Huddlestone knocked a corner short for Robertson – his delivery veered from the superb to the, well, not superb, but this was a good one, floating to the far post where Elmohamady beasted his weak-willed marker and headed home at Bettinelli’s near post. 1-0 City.
Relief! Encouragingly, City appeared to realise that the game could be settled immediately, and Pringle was cautioned for bringing Hernández down just a minute later as City swarmed forward again.
Meanwhile, Fulham had a shot. No, really. McGregor very intently watched it dribble towards his goal, getting almost part of his body behind this 7mph rasper, and saved it. Horrible to watch a keeper’s confidence so shot, really.
Just before the break, drama. Elmohamady wins another far-post header from a Robertson cross, and the ball bounces across goal, spinning (via a deflection) a foot wide.
It didn’t get worse for Fulham on the scoreboard before the break, but their personnel took a hit when keeper Bettinelli collided heavily with one of his own defenders. After a delay approaching five minutes he was stretchered off, former Preston veteran Andy Lonergan taking his place.
1-0 at the break, and most satisfying. But if you can’t immediately identify the problem here, you’ve probably not been going to City very long. It was that second goal. The Tigers had played some terrific football, seeking to be proactive and play at a high tempo, succeeding admirably. But whereas it stretched credibility to imagine that this frankly hopeless Fulham side would bring back a two goal deficit, one goal only takes one shot…
In any case, Fulham improved considerably in the second half, not unlike Huddersfield 11 days earlier. Tougher in the tackle, they managed to disrupt City’s play and eventually saw some possession in the opposing half. One can only assume that a stern half-time discussion had taken place.
The change in direction of the play began to unsettle the home crowd a little, so much so that on the hour mark, when Robertson was called upon to smuggle a low cross behind after Davies was caught out on the right flank, the visitors served up their first chant of the night. And from the resulting corner they nearly levelled when one of theirs blootered a header over, with the marking looking suspiciously frail.
Recognising a side struggling to assert their earlier authority, Steve Bruce took off Hernández and brought on Clucas, pushing Aluko up front to join Akpom. Tough on Hernández, who’d played well and with vigour throughout – tiredness, perhaps? A fortunate reprieve for Aluko though, who’d not exactly shone throughout the second half.
On 70, that leveller. In circumstances both comical and sublime, too. McGregor came out to collect, appeared to be impeded but spilled the ball, where it was half-cleared to Aluko. He infuriatingly dithered, was robbed of possession and the ball transferred to ex-Tiger Tom Cairney, who curled a glorious shot into the top corner past the motionless McGregor.
A peach of a goal. A dog’s dinner of a lead-up.
Jelavić replaced Akpom as frustration engulfed the Circle. Hayden came on for Huddlestone, who’d excelled in the first half but been uninvolved in the second. Meanwhile, McGregor was called on to push away a free-kick from McCormack that appeared to deflect on its way through – a good save if so.
Meyler, by some distance the best distance the best player on the pitch, nearly set up a winner when his deep cross found Clucas – however his header across goal bounced wide.
On 86, we win it. Hayden and Jelavić were involved in some tidy interplay on the edge of the Fulham area, and with too many white shirts watching them and not Aluko sneaking in behind them, when the ball fell to him his low (mis-hit?) shot bounced past Lonergan and in. 2-1 City, and exultation.
And in truth, it rarely felt as though it’d be let go this time. Four minutes of injury time were safely seen out, and City collected three points.
A deserved three points, overall. Improvements can be made. Teams must be finished off. But we’re second, gathering points already and looking alright. What’s not to be excited about?