IN a chaotic Premier League season, Manchester City looked to impose some order at the Boleyn Ground as Manuel Pellegrini’s side claimed their first away win of the season with a stylish performance.
West Ham were worn down by the skill and energy of Sergio Aguero-who scored twice-and David Silva, who added the third. But Sam Allardyce’s side played a part in their downfall too, particularly in a first half when anxiety accompanied everything his defence did.
Allardyce had named the same team which won at White Hart Lane before the international break. After that victory, he was hailed, by himself and some others, as a tactical wizard, denied the top jobs because of a cruel reverse prejudice.
The system worked against Tottenham Hotspur and failed against City, probably for the same reason. West Ham conceded the ball and territory and Spurs couldn’t make it count, City could.
It was, perhaps, the wrong approach against a side which had its own insecurities. Manchester City’s vulnerabilities had been ongoing this season despite the departure of Roberto Mancini whose exit was supposed to solve most problems.
Without Vincent Kompany, Pellegrini had to experiment again with their centre back partnership, putting Javier Garcia alongside Matija Nastasic. They couldn’t have anticipated as comfortable a time for most of the game with Nastasic assured at the back whenever West Ham did put them under pressure.
When West Ham did come forward in the final half an hour, they discovered these weaknesses but by then it was too late and City had found the source of West Ham’s problems early on.
City had started with a swagger, passing the ball around while Alvaro Negredo found space either side of West Ham’s centre backs, making runs which stretched the defence.
He was involved in City’s opening goal, exposing this uncharacteristic lack of order in an Allardyce side when he let a straight ball from Fernandinho run by him. This caught West Ham’s defence out and Aguero ran beyond the flat back four before calmly finishing past Jussi Jaaskelainen
Without a forward, West Ham couldn’t hold the ball up and yet their midfield was being dominated by the power of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho while Silva floated around, imposing his own kind of presence.
Meanwhile West Ham’s defence were intent on self-destruction. James Tomkins and Winston Reid found different ways of setting City up, creating chances for Negredo and Yaya Toure, whose shot was kept out by a Jaaskelainen save.
Nastasic had made a crucial intervention in front of Ricardo Vaz Te when West ham did show purpose but hope seemed lost six minutes into the second half as their calamitous defence stood off Aguero when City had a free-kick on the left and he headed in from eight yards.
City’s second goal liberated West Ham, albeit briefly. If Ravel Morrison was the man people were talking about beforehand, it was Stewart Downing who provided the impetus.
Downing could probably provide Morrison with some career advice but Morrison could probably offer something to Downing too in his fearlessness, even if Morrison’s career so far would suggest there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fear.
Downing has always been eminently sensible and he began to find space on the right to make his well-considered judgements, first knocking a ball into Mohamed Diame which Joe Hart came out to smother and then taking up the position of maximum opportunity.
Downing’s career has not been about winning far-post headers but when he knocked a cross from Razvan Rat on the left back into Morrison’s path, City hesitated. Morrison flicked the ball over his head and, although he wanted to gather the ball himself, Vaz Te moved under it, scoring with an overhead kick and celebrating extravagantly, clearly feeling the technique should be honoured if not the match situation.
The crowd were energised but West Ham, despite the energy of Kevin Nolan in midfield were always open to a counter attack with Negredo hitting the underside of the bar and Jaaskelainen saving from Aguero and sub Alexsandar Kolarov.
These efforts were enough for West Ham to lose heart and City took control before Silva won the game ten minutes from the end.
Toure had picked out Aguero who again found space to get into the box. This time, he back-heeled the ball to Silva who waited for the right moment and put the ball past Jaaskelainen and the game beyond West Ham.
City moved into the top four where they feel they belong. They are a point ahead of Southampton. This is a season when entitlement has little to do with league position.