LONDON, November 22 – Manchester City romped back into the Premier League title race here Sunday with a 4-1 victory over an outclassed Fulham side managed by former boss Mark Hughes.
City’s Argentinian contingent led the rout, with Carlos Tevez scoring twice and Pablo Zabaleta adding another to the delight of their legendary compatriot Diego Maradona, who was watching from the Craven Cottage stands.
Midfielder Yaya Toure got City’s other goal while Zoltan Gera scored a late consolation for Fulham.
The victory saw City close to within three points of league leaders Chelsea and second-placed Manchester United, who have 28 points, and one point behind third-placed Arsenal on 26 points.
"I think that’s probably the best we’ve played all year," City midfielder Gareth Barry told Sky Sports. "We knew it was a good chance to move up the league and make an impression."
Barry admitted the stylish nature of the win should silence critics who have branded City "boring" this season.
"We try not to worry about that too much — it’s more about the three points," Barry said. "But if you can score goals along the way it’s even better."
Zabaleta meanwhile said he was pleased to have been able to score in front of Argentine idol Maradona. "It was special. It’s only my second goal for City," Zabaleta said.
The fixture had been billed as a chance for Hughes — controversially sacked by City 11 months ago — to pile the pressure on his successor Roberto Mancini, under fire after back-to-back 0-0 draws in City’s previous two games.
Yet the match was over as a contest by half-time as City turned on the style to race into a 3-0 lead with goals from Tevez, Zabaleta and Toure.
Tevez opened the scoring on six minutes, turning away from Fulham defender Carlos Salcido to rifle in a low shot past Mark Schwarzer.
Zabaleta made it 2-0 on 32 minutes, driving in a swerving shot from the edge of the area which took a minor deflection from Damien Duff.
Toure made it 3-0 three minutes later, rounding off a superb 24-pass move with a firm low shot, prompting boos from the disgusted Fulham fans.
The Cottagers flickered briefly into life early in the second half with Gera testing Joe Hart. But instead City extended their lead when Tevez flicked on a Zabaleta shot for 4-0 on 56 minutes.
Gera finally netted for Fulham on 70 minutes, sidefooting home after a poor clearance by Jo, but there was never any chance of a miraculous fightback.
In Sunday’s early match, Blackburn Rovers gave their new Indian owners a winning start as two goals from Morten Gamst Pedersen proved decisive in a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa.
Pedersen struck a goal in each half as Blackburn delighted new owners Venkateshwara and Balaji Rao, watching from the stands at a bitterly cold Ewood Park after their takeover of the club was confirmed on Friday.
The win lifted Blackburn to 11th with 18 points, trailing Newcastle in 10th by virtue of goal difference.
"It’s a fantastic day for us," Rovers manager Sam Allardyce said afterwards. "I think the fans turning out in the bitter cold weather is very important and we’ve paid them back handsomely today. We got defence and attack just right.
"In the end we snuffed them out brilliantly and took our goals in the end," Allardyce, admitting he was pleased to provide a winning start for the Raos, who run poultry giant Venky’s.
"I hope we’ve sent them home very happy and excited about their new asset," Allardyce said. "I can imagine coming from India they felt the cold more than we did. But hopefully the result warmed them," he told BBC radio.
The victory was reward for a disciplined display by Rovers, who punished Villa at the end of the first half following the latest in a string of fouls committed by the visitors in dangerous areas.
Villa defender Stephen Warnock needlessly bundled over Blackburn’s El-Hadji Diouf wide out on the right, and from the ensuing free-kick Pedersen whipped in a wicked cross which Brad Friedel misjudged completely as it curled in.
Blackburn made it 2-0 when a shot from Phil Jones was diverted into the Villa net by the alert Pedersen on 66 minutes.