Manchester City have tightened their grip on the prospect of Champions League football next season as a 2-1 victory over West Ham United at the City of Manchester Stadium on Sunday moves Roberto Mancini’s side to within five points of third place Arsenal and seven ahead of fifth placed Liverpool. The flip side of the result sees the Hammers remain bottom and still, tantalisingly, three points from safety.
Goals from Nigel de Jong and Pablo Zabaleta gave City all three points and ensured that Avram Grant’s side's fate is still not set. Demba Ba’s goal for the visitors was not enough to produce the result that West Ham desperately need.
With the end of the season rapidly approaching, every game counts and with each positive result, Mancini seems more and more likely to achieve his main aim for the season, qualify for Europe’s premier club trophy. West Ham on the other hand, are fighting for their lives and with co-owner David Sullivan giving the club a 25% chance of staying up, there seems to be little confidence emanating from Upton park these days.
The league table doesn’t lie in May. With City sitting very nicely in fourth spot before kickoff and West Ham acting as the prop to the rest of the table, an easy and effective performance was what the City fans would have been wanting as they strolled in the Mancunian sunshine prior to the game.
And that is what they got for the most part. Roberto Mancini’s new found confidence and utilization of his attacking tools has turned City from a lethargic yet expensive unit into a slick, organised and potent side. Right from the get go City meant business and for all West Ham could do, it wasn’t enough to stop the irresistible City thrust.
Such was the wide ranging threats of City, that the opening goal came from an unusual source. Nigel de Jong has become a staple of the City midfield, his bullish style of play is his trademark – just ask Xabi Alonso – but his charging run from a corner was finished with a piledriving volley that left Robert Green in the West Ham net with no chance. It was the Dutchman’s first goal in the Sky Blue and gave Mancini’s side the perfect start.
The City fans had barely finished doing “The Poznan” – the craze which has replaced the inflatable bananas of the old Kippax stand days in the hearts of the blue half of Manchester – when a meandering run from Pablo Zabaleta saw the Argentine burst into the Hammers box, before evading the onrushing Rob Green with a deft touch. With the ball seemingly goalbound, West Ham full back Lars Jacobsen was only able to divert the shot into the roof of the net, as his attempted clearance went in vain. Mancini was elated on the sidelines and City were looking in total control of the afternoon and showing little in the way of any fallibility which would allow the visitors back in.
Things were going from bad to worse for Avram Grant, skipper Matthew Upson was not fully fit before kickoff and he only lasted 25 minutes before he trotted off to be replaced by Da Costa.
Just after the half hour West Ham showed signs of life and Robbie Keane had a wonderful chance to pull one back when his offside beating run gave him a one-on-one with Joe Hart, who until this point had had little to do. As the Irishman bore down on Hart it was clear what he needed to do, chip the ball lightly over the advancing ‘keeper. He didn’t. Hart did enough to keep the ball from it’s intended path and City breathed easy once more.
This relaxed demeanour didn’t last as Demba Ba struck after excellent refereeing from Howard Webb allowed play to continue after a Joleon Lescott handball. The Senegalese striker gave hope to the Hammers and made the halftime score far more respectable.
In the second period both sides had chances to increase the scoreline. Mario Balotelli’s thunderous shot which rattled the crossbar could have killed the game off but West Ham were showing a tenacity which belied their league position. Da Costa had a free header which he only directed straight at Hart and moments later, David Silva’s hesitancy let West Ham off the hook because if the Spaniard was more alert he could have played in Balotelli for a clear cut chance on goal.
West Ham's dogged determination was a real plus for the fans who made the trip north. There were a number of spells in the second half which showed that there’s plenty of fight left and they were capable of troubling City’s expensive side. The City fans were growing frustrated with this turn of events and were anxious as their side held the slimmest of leads. A trait which must be arrested if they are to challenge for the title next term.
On another day West Ham could have got the levelling goal they deserved, but when you’re at the wrong end of the table nothing goes for you and every missed opportunity can result in catastrophe and ejection from the most expensive party in town.
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