Hapless Jacobsen puts City on brink of promised land
Manchester City 2
West Ham United 1
Reality will dawn for both these clubs this morning. How different that will feel.
For City, there is now clear, sky-blue water between themselves and Liverpool and Tottenham for that fourth place and, with it, the end of the rainbow: the Champions League. The gap is now a daunting seven points.
For West Ham, there are far darker thoughts. Their world will feel more monochrome than ever as they stare at the rising likelihood of relegation and the trauma that will cause.
It was, as ever, a self-inflicted wound. On 80 minutes, manager Avram Grant tossed his notebook towards the away team's bench only for the wind to catch it, blow it back past him and scatter the pages onto the pitch.
It summed up how West Ham tossed away this match, how disorganised they appeared at the start. Like those pages fluttering in the wind, they were all over the place.
Two goals down after 15 minutes and it was over, and the words of chairman David Sullivan last week, when he questioned the desire of some of the "spoilt" players, appeared prophetic.
The winning goal? An own goal, of course, and it's now five losses in a row.
Interestingly Sullivan, like the rest of the club's board, didn't attend the match.
Grant was bullish at the end, far more than he had been during the match, but predicted that his team needed seven points to survive.
"It is a pressure, but more it is a challenge," he said.
For the supporters it's just a pressure. Full stop.
"There is a good chance to do it," Grant added.
At the point of that second goal it was a sunshine stroll for City.
That they greeted the final whistle with relief, after a nervy second half, spoke more of their own wastefulness and errors than the threat posed by the desperate visitors.
Everyone will study the run-in. City, with four matches left, are almost over the line. Two more wins will do it.
West Ham, with three games to play, are teetering on the brink and dependent on a remarkable turnaround under a manager who appears incapable of inspiring.
They will have Scott Parker back and he will have to do the inspiring. As he has done throughout this campaign.
Never mind the performance, think of the prize, City will tell themselves, but the sight of Mario Balotelli losing the ball cheaply and then hacking down Demba Ba summed up their sloppiness.
Inevitably when he was withdrawn, Balotelli gestured half-heartedly towards manager Roberto Mancini. It was all too predictable, also.
Dealing with all that can wait. For now Mancini remained concentrated on the task in hand.
"We will relax after May 22 until then we will do the maximum we can do," he said. "We have four games (left), the others have three.
Everything is in our hands. For all the season we have stayed between first and fourth and so we deserve to be in the Champions League, but we have another four games."
They opened this contest at a canter. A corner was won, swung in and flicked on by Vincent Kompany. The ball ricocheted off Thomas Hitzslperger's chest and ran out to Nigel de Jong.
Twenty-five yards out and urged to shoot, the midfielder did just that, his low effort beating Robert Green's dive for his first City goal. That simple.
Then, David Silva, who appeared to be on a different plane from the others, chipped a wonderful return pass to Pablo Zabaleta who held off Danny Gabbidon and sent in a low cross-cum-shot which panicked Lars Jacobsen. His clearance slammed the ball into the net.
It looked like the score would continue to mount but, then, Jonathan Spector slipped a pass through to Robbie Keane. The Ireland striker's run was clever but his finish wasn't as he delayed and delayed and then tried to lift the ball over Joe Hart who saved with his knee.
But, soon after, Hitzslperger delivered a cross, Keane flicked it on and, as Joleon Lescott handled, the ball dropped to Ba who showed a predator's instinct to fire his shot past Hart.
It was an unexpected reply. City's supremacy took a jolt but they should have added another goal when Silva brok and fed Balotelli, who steadied himself before curling a right-footed shot which struck the bar. The rebound fell to Yaya Toure, whose effort was blocked by Green.
The goalkeeper then did well to hold up Silva, who had been played clear by Toure, until he had to pass to Balotelli, whose low shot was scrambled off the line by James Tomkins.
City should have been out of sight, but substitute Manuel Da Costa reached a corner to force Hart to push out his header before the home side threatened with a deflected shot by Silva spinning up for Green to parry.
Time and again City poured forward only for the final pass to go astray or a cross to flash across the face of goal. West Ham could not take advantage, and the scoreline was a flattery.
"If you play against a squad who face relegation, it's hard," Mancini reasoned. But West Ham should have made it harder. (© Daily Telegraph, London)