City crush Hammers to emerge as leading lights
West Ham 1 Man City 3
The way things work at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini may have just increased the pressure on himself.
City moved level on points with Arsenal at the top of the table after their 3-1 win at Upton Park yesterday. Things will change at the top again before the weekend is out but in a congested table, City's three points ensured they will be considered title contenders. Expectations have increased again.
The City fans aren't questioning their manager and neither is his assistant Brian Kidd.
"Everybody's happy with the win," Kidd, Mancini's assistant said afterwards, praising Mancini's work ethic. "It's a privilege to see him work on the training field. The club are very lucky to have him as a a manager. His will to win is unbelievable. His attention to detail is fantastic. There's no way he will let the pressure to get to him." Kidd was enthusiastic in praise but halted when asked if Mancini was a better manager than his old boss Alex Ferguson. "Flipping hell," he said.
Others within the club are said to be more resistant but Kidd, standing in for Mancini who had flown back to Italy to see his father, denied the players questioned the manager's methods. "There hasn't been a resistance, that's the thing. There's been a focus. He's been like a duck to water. He gets his points over and that's it, you do it."
Although reports last night suggested that not everyone was prepared to do it. Captain Carlos Tevez is said to have handed in a transfer request.
Earlier, Kidd wasn't getting carried away. City will want to be near the top in March and no side would go overboard after beating a feeble West Ham side who are looking adrift at the bottom of the table.
City hadn't ensured the points until nearly 15 minutes from the end when Yaya Toure, who had scored the first, burst forward again before his shot ricocheted off Rob Green for a second.
By the end, even after James Tomkins had scored the least consoling of consolations, the idea that West Ham could have taken something from the game looked like a fantasy, but there was a spell when they felt they could.
"It was a little bit harsh, particularly in the second half, but they are a good team, very strong physically. They can win the league," Avram Grant said before insisting his side should have had a penalty when they were only one down.
But West Ham would have lost no matter what. They paid lip service to the idea of challenging and particularly scoring. Only Scott Parker tried to compete. City played a fluid formation that West Ham couldn't counter. With David Silva starting from a deep central midfield position, Yaya Toure got forward frequently with Jo and Mario Balotelli in front of him.
Jo was involved in the opening minutes when City should have taken the lead. He delivered an inviting cross along the six-yard box, but Mario Balotelli was too casual and side-footed wide.
West Ham were standing off City and it cost them a goal. Barry was allowed to pull the ball back from the left. It was an aimless cross but Yaya Toure transformed it, reacting first and sweeping the ball high into the net with his left foot.
City could have been two up when West Ham's defenders were sucked under the ball from a Silva corner. Balotelli had a free header but Pablo Barrera cleared on the line.
West Ham had moments but they were disjointed. There was no confidence to keep a move going so players shot instead. Parker came closest with one effort before Frederic Piquionne had West Ham's best chance of the half, heading over from a Julien Faubert cross, just before half-time.
They were also helped by another Balotelli tantrum. He was booked after getting into a tangle with a West Ham player and becoming increasingly worked up about it. Almost immediately, he was substituted by Mancini, at which point he headed straight down the tunnel. "He's a great kid," Kidd insisted. "The boy is a talent."
West Ham's penalty appeal came when the ball bounced onto Yaya Toure's hand, but City were now showing their patience.
They waited and waited as West Ham threw men forward. Seventeen minutes from the end, City had the perfect counter-attack. Nigel de Jong found Yaya again on the left. He took on James Tomkins, beat him and his shot hit the post but bounced off Green and into the net.
Johnson, who had replaced Balotelli, got the third. Silva waited for his run, picked him out perfectly and Johnson went round the keeper and finished calmly. Tomkins headed in a late goal, but there were very few there to see it.
Both managers had begun the game under pressure, Mancini because it looks like a City manager always will be under pressure and Grant because of West Ham's league position -- and also because he looks like the kind of manager who always will be under pressure. By the end, City fans were chanting Mancini's name and singing about winning the league while the West Ham fans left early, pausing to send some abuse Grant's way. It's the least of his problems.