EVEN when he is watching from the substitutes’ bench, Robinho has a habit of dominating the agenda at Manchester City.
The Brazilian was dropped — or rested, depending on your point of view — by manager Mark Hughes yesterday but the decision backfired spectacularly as City gifted Fulham just their second away win of the season with an alarmingly limp performance.
Stephen Ireland had given the Blues a half-time advantage but, just as they did in the corresponding fixture 12 months ago, Fulham turned the match on its head.
Clint Dempsey levelled before City old-boy Dickson Etuhu volleyed Roy Hodgson’s side in front.
Even when Robinho was summoned from the sidelines in the 63rd minute, Fulham continued to dominate and it was no surprise when Dempsey wrapped up the win.
The City fans vented their frustration at the final whistle after earlier chanting “You don’t know what you are doing” at Hughes when he introduced Ched Evans for Valeri Bojinov, while Robinho remained a bemused spectator.
But the Welshman insisted he had no other option given Robinho has been involved almost constantly since his £32.5 million arrival from Real Madrid on transfer deadline day last summer.
“People make comments but I am trying to protect the players,” said Hughes.
“I know the fitness levels of each one. So when people make comments maybe they are being a bit too simplistic.
“Robinho has had a great first season but he has been among those responsible for carrying the vast majority of the workload, and it was my first opportunity to give him a break.”
Robinho will return for Thursday’s UEFA Cup quarter-final with Hamburg, when City will be trying to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit.
Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Bridge and Vincent Kompany, who all missed out this afternoon, should be involved as well, although not Craig Bellamy, who will have a scan on the knee injury he suffered in Germany after the Easter weekend.
City now find themselves at the back of the pack chasing the final English berth in the re-named Europa League next term.
In contrast, Fulham are only a point adrift of seventh-placed West Ham, having made huge progress since their last visit to Eastlands, when Hodgson virtually gave up on survival when his team fell two goals behind with 20 minutes to go.
Hodgson’s vast experience and common-sense approach means he is a man worth listening to. So, for those City fans now demanding the removal of their manager, the Fulham chief had some words of caution.
“This is a club where there has been an awful lot of changes in a very short period of time,” he said.
“Mark Hughes will need time to reshape the club the way he wants.”
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Given 6, Richards 4, Onuoha 5, Dunne 4, Garrido 6, K Etuhu 5 (Sturridge 63, 4), Zabaleta 5, Ireland 7, De Jong 5, Petrov 6 (Robinho, 63, 5), Bojinov 6 (Evans 54, 4).
Subs Not Used: Hart, Elano, Fernandes, McGivern.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer 7, Pantsil 7, Hangeland 7, Hughes 7, Konchesky 7, Davies 7, D Etuhu 7, Murphy 7 (Dacourt 88, 4), Dempsey 8 (Gera 85, 5), Johnson 7, Zamora 7 (Kamara 85, 5).
Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Nevland, Stoor, Baird.
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire) 6: Assured, for the most part.
MATCH RATING: *** Stirring comeback from Fulham.
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