Thursday 20 October 2016

Bilic's away-day specialists derail City juggernaut

Manchester City 1 West Ham 2

Etihad Stadium

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Manchester City’s Joe Hart shows the pain
Manchester City’s Joe Hart shows the pain
West Ham's Aaron Cresswell in action with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne
West Ham's Mark Noble celebrates after the game

Slaven Bilic's West Ham are turning into away specialists. Three of the Hammers' four victories this season have been on their travels, and as the wins have come at the Emirates, Anfield and now the Etihad, no one could accuse them of going about it the easy way.

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This was not quite as gobsmacking as the first two, except that Manchester City did happen to be top of the league with a 100 per cent record before kick-off, and even quite late in the game a first defeat of the season did not look likely. West Ham spent much of the second half penned back defending their penalty area doughtily while their opponents played pinball around them. On another day City might have managed to salvage something: they certainly had enough possession in inviting areas, but the visitors held out to take the points thanks to the lead they took in the first half, before the home side had fully awoken to the danger.

City's perfect start to the Premier League season included five clean sheets in their opening five wins, yet it took West Ham just five minutes to put a dent in that record. Taking a pass from Dimitri Payet and turning towards goal, Victor Moses sized up his options from 25 yards out before beating Joe Hart with a drive into the bottom corner.

It was not the start City would have been hoping for after losing in the Champions League here in midweek, especially as they had already lost David Silva to an injury sustained in the warm-up. Jesus Navas was hastily promoted to the right wing before kick-off and Kevin De Bruyne made his first City start in the centre of the advanced midfield trio behind Sergio Aguero.

The Argentina striker had missed most of the Juventus game with a knee problem, and missed a glorious early chance to level, and West Ham extended their lead just past the half hour when the home side were unable to defend a corner. Winston Reid met Moses' cross from the right with his head, Pedro Obiang did well to turn the ball back across the face of goal, and with the defence ball-watching, Diafra Sakho poked in from close range.

Aguero was having an off-day, but made amends on the stroke of the interval, turning to stride purposefully forward before squeezing out the pass from which De Bruyne scored his first City goal with a crisp shot from just outside the area.

Sakho dallied when he had an opportunity to restore the two-goal cushion, and City looked sharper after the break, with Toure rolling an early shot just wide and Adrian preventing an own goal from Reid, under pressure from Aguero.

Although Sakho had a brief chance after staying onside and sliding a shot wide of the target, West Ham were living dangerously. When Yaya Toure turned a tired looking defence he seemed certain to score, yet with the whole of the goal to aim at he drilled his shot past a post. De Bruyne was practically running the game by this stage, showing marvellous touch and vision, generally to find Jesus Navas in particular incapable of delivering a decent final ball.

West Ham deserved their win for a committed, all-round display. City have a effectively done a Chelsea in reverse. Jose Mourinho now has the back-to-back wins he demanded last week to steady a lurching ship. Pellegrini and his players, after a month of plain sailing, are suddenly looking at back-to-back defeats.


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