Edin Dzeko's late winner lifts City
Edin Dzeko came off the bench to secure Manchester City a last-gasp 2-1 victory at Fulham on Saturday afternoon and save his manager Roberto Mancini's blushes a day after he proclaimed City would retain the Premier League crown.
The Italian yesterday revealed his side would overcome an indifferent start and secure the title it won in such incredible circumstances back in May.
Such fighting talk came after a poor run of form that looked as if it would be extended Saturday in west London as Fulham maintained parity heading into the closing stage.
Mancini's side fell behind to a Mladen Petric penalty after 10 minutes but levelled two minutes before the half through Sergio Aguero.
The Argentina international tucked home after a superb save by Mark Schwarzer, who would be beaten again at the death by Dzeko.
The Bosnia international had been on the pitch for less than two minutes when he capitalized on a poor clearing header by John Arne Riise and lashed home to secure victory.
The hosts were unable to call upon talisman Dimitar Berbatov for the game after he pulled up with an injury in training this week.
Petric played in his place and was one of two changes made by manager Martin Jol, while there were only three survivors from the City team that fell to a 4-2 extra-time defeat at home to Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup.
City made the brighter start to proceedings by the Thames, retaining possession with ease as it waited for Fulham's defense to open up.
The hosts extinguished that early threat, though, and were handed a chance to break the deadlock by Mark Halsey.
Pablo Zabaleta tripped Riise after the full back cut in from the left, which the referee judged to be just inside the 18-yard box.
"This pitch is always a tough for us but the problem is we were 1-0 down and I don't know why because the penalty was not a penalty," Mancini said. "We were 1-0 down and Fulham didn't shoot on goal for the first 20 minutes. That was a problem but I am happy because the players continued to play well, kept calm and we had a lot of chances."
The call looked harsh but Petric made no mistake with his spot kick, sending Joe Hart the wrong way with a well-struck left-footed effort.
"We can do nothing," Mancini added. "There were a lot of (referee) mistakes in the past four games. We accept this, but we're not happy. This is true but we can do nothing, only continue to play. Sometimes it is a penalty but the referee is there to take a decision. Sometimes he does well, sometimes he can do bad.
"If we go to watch all our last three games, against Stoke it was handball. I don't know why the referee that was behind didn't give it. Against Arsenal there was one penalty."
The Croatia international wasted a decent chance to double Fulham's advantage five minutes later as he scooped over after fine link-up play with Hugo Rodallega.
The visitors were remaining patient in their build-up play and it would have paid dividends in the 25th minute had Brede Hangeland not swept clear Zabaleta's driven ball across the six-yard box.
Both sides came close from set pieces as the half-hour mark approached as first Riise saw a venomous 35-yard free kick saved by Hart.
City was becoming visibly frustrated by its start to the game and Carlos Tevez confronted Riise after the striker had claims for a penalty waved away.
Gael Clichy tested Schwarzer with a hopeful left-foot drive as the reigning champions pressed for a leveller, though they were still struggling to stifle the Whites at the other end.
While Fulham was threatening, it was having to defend at its best to keep City out.
Aaron Hughes and Schwarzer combined superbly to somehow stop the visitors' bundled effort on the line, before the latter showed great reactions to thwart Silva and Hughes cleared from the cross that followed.
But for all that defensive work, Fulham could not quite maintain its lead heading into halftime.
Tevez's deflected shot was turned goalward by Silva, which forced Schwarzer into a fine save that unfortunately for the veteran fell kindly for Aguero to tuck away.
The tempo slowed as the second half begun as Fulham continued in its attempts to contain City.
After Hangeland came close after connecting with a Ruiz corner four minutes in, most of the play was at the other end and Aguero was unfortunate to see a header loop just wide of the far post.
Mario Balotelli came on for Tevez with 25 minutes remaining as the visitors looked for a new attacking outlet, while Alex Kacaniklic replaced Petric for the hosts.
Five minutes after coming on both introductions were having an impact as first Balotelli curled wide from the edge of the box.
Kacaniklic then darted down the left and, after seeing an appeal for a handball against Zabaleta turned down, saw his blocked cross fall to Ruiz, whose strike would have nestled in the top corner had it not been for a Hart save.
Less than two minutes after the latter's introduction the plan worked as Riise's failure to clear a Clichy cross allowed Dzeko to rifle home inside the box and secure three points.
"It was a mistimed ball," Jol said. "I would hit it with my right foot instead of trying to head it. It was a bad clearance. I think he will be disappointed because the mistake he made they punished."
Information from Press Association was used in this report.