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City flatter to deceive again as Hammers hold their own

The Premier League's only unbeaten show rolls on. Manchester City are yet to find anything like the sweetly-nasty rhythm that chewed sides up during the opening of last season, though a hunch is that sometime soon Roberto Mancini's men will finally hand out a lesson.

Not here though. With Manchester United's win over Arsenal and Chelsea's draw at Swansea, a 4-0 victory over West Ham would have placed City top for the first time this term.

Yet by the close, Mancini would have killed for a scrappily fought 1-0 win, with this result meaning they actually drop a place to third, two points behind Alex Ferguson's men.

Mancini's side were set up in what, when the break arrived, had proved a fluid 4-2-1-3. This had Samir Nasri as the creative conductor behind an attacking trident of Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko.

Sergio Aguero was on the bench alongside Pablo Zabaleta, a right-back who was returning from injury, so Kolo Toure was chosen in the berth for a first league start since late August, as Joleon Lescott's back injury caused him to miss out.

After James Milner went down injured in the warm-up, Gareth Barry also made the starting team, playing in tandem with Yaya Toure in a midfield shield that was overrun at times during the opening period.

Noting City's weak spot along Kolo Toure's corridor, Sam Allardyce was spied early on waving at James Collins to pepper the auxiliary right-back with a high ball that Andy Carroll was to feed off.

West Ham, who just about shared the opening half, had the ball beyond Joe Hart first but this was ruled offside, perhaps unfairly -- Mark Noble's dinked free-kick having been finished expertly by Kevin Nolan. Mohamed Diame also troubled Hart with a slick dribble inside from the left that closed with him letting fly from 25 yards, though the shot was always rising.

City, as is the case thus far this campaign, were only fluid in flashes. When at Arsenal, Nasri yearned to play through the middle, though the ambition was stymied by Cesc Fabregas's presence. Here, with David Silva injured, the emphasis was on the Frenchman to prompt the visitors and he impressed when doing so.

There was a chipped pass to Tevez that West Ham managed to snuff out and, as the half neared its end, a clever ball in to Balotelli from which he attempted an acrobatic scissors kick that went wide City's best move of this stanza also involved the Italian.

Kolo Toure pinged a ball into Tevez's feet. The forward instantly hit Balotelli, who in turn banged his own first-time pass sweetly into Dzeko's patch, so it was a pity the striker failed to control.

For West Ham, there was also a Matt Jarvis cross from the left that Yossi Benayoun met with a whack of his right boot that Hart tipped over, and a Carroll shot from 25 yards that missed the keeper's left post.

West Ham were coming off a 2-1 defeat at Wigan Athletic, of which Allardyce wrote in the pre-game notes: "If we are going to pick up points today we simply must start and perform better than we did at Wigan. Our performance was short of the standard we had set in earlier matches.

"We must improve, show greater levels of commitment and energy and get the basics right. That means keeping possession when we have the ball, working hard when we don't get and being organised and disciplined in all areas of the pitch. If we are not on our game, City will punish us."

After this visit of the champions, the Hammers next sequence reads Newcastle, Stoke, Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Allardyce had spoken of points against top five teams being a "bonus" and so with this run ahead the 15 already accumulated appeared more than handy.

Any unexpected spoils here looked unlikely when City marched in to occupy home territory at the start of the second half.

A Tevez corner that was dropped by Jussi Jaaskelainen was scrambled away and when West Ham did attack, an agricultural boot of the ball at Carroll in the City area came to nothing when the on-loan Liverpool man was penalised for a foul.

Better from West Ham and Carroll came from an overlap from George McCartney that set up the striker for an overhead volley that was deflected wide off Barry.

Observer

Sunday Indo Sport