Hammers out-fought and out-thought
West Ham slump again as Manchester City outplay them at Upton Park
West Ham United 3 Manchester City 1
THE footballing and financial gulf between these two sides was all too obvious at Upton Park, where the out-fought and out-thought Hammers ninth defeat of the season worringly leaves them bottom of the table, still four points adrift of safety writes STEVE BLOWERS.
Yaya Toure’s first-half opener put City on the way to a victory that puts them level on points with Premier League leaders Arsenal, before the Ivory Coast international forced an unfortunate own goal off Robert Green and substitute Adam Johnson confirmed all three points for Roberto Mancini’s side.
And although James Tomkins headed a late, late consolation, the claret and blue fans amongst the crowd of 32,813 were already on their way home, knowing that Avram Grant’s team need a festive favour at Blackburn Rovers next Saturday if they are to avoid spending Christmas Day in that dreaded basement spot.
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City had been forced to make two enforced changes following last Saturday’s victory over Bolton Wanderers as Jerome Boateng and Jo replaced the suspended duo of Aleksandar Kolarokov and honorary East Ender Carlos Tevez.
And taking the most of his starting opportunity, Jo was soon in the thick of the early action, forcing Green to smother his awkward low cross before squaring into the six-yard box, where Mario Balotelli somehow kicked thin air.
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Having survived that let-off, more good fortune came West Ham’s way shortly afterwards, when Scott Parker escaped a fifth, suspension-inducing yellow card thanks to the generosity of referee Phil Dowd and, shortly afterwards, the marauding midfielder sent a delightful, dipping, 35-yarder just inches wide.
A dark defeat at the Stadium of Light last Sunday had left the Hammers back in bottom spot and, following that loss to Sunderland, Grant made four switches as Julien Faubert, Pablo Barrera, Junior Stanislas and Frederic Piquionne came in for Danny Gabbidon plus substitutes Kieron Dyer, Luis Boa Morte and Carlton Cole.
On the quarter-hour mark, Nigel De Jong’s foul on Piquionne saw Stanislas send the subsequent 20-yard free-kick high into the City fans and then, midway through the half, the lively left-winger collected Parker’s searching, crossfield pass before letting fly with a low 15-yard effort that Joe Hart did well to hold.
At the other end, Yaya Toure then embarked on a bull-dozing run from halfway but the well-placed Green comfortably anticipated the final shot.
But on the half-hour mark, the snood-sporting, Ivory Coast midfielder joined another City raid deep into Hammers territory and, after collecting Gareth Barry’s cut back towards the 18-yard line, Toure rode Jonathan Spector’s slide to send the ball scorching just underneath the crossbar to break the deadlock and claim his third goal of the season.
Having fallen behind, it could have got yet worse for the Hammers, when David Silva floated over a 34th-minute corner that saw Barrera hook Balotelli’s powerful header off the line to give Hammers a glimmer of second half hope.
The first 45 minutes had been punctuated by a catalogue of niggly fouls and, within seconds of the restart, Tal Ben Haim finally became the first name to go into Referee Dowd’s book for sliding through the angry Silva.
With West Ham looking a little livelier, Victor Obinna sent in a low by-line cross, which Hart bravely plucked off Piquionne’s toes and then Barrera floated an effort over the far angle before Parker also volleyed wide.
If the Hammers had been out-muscled in the first-half, they were certainly giving no quarter in the second period and after Balotelli was booked for dissent on the hour, Mancini took no chances by substituting the irate Italian, who marched straight down the tunnel in a fit of pique.
Midway through the half, Grant made a more tactical switch of his own, replacing Stanislas with Dyer, who immediately brought added pace and purpose to a strengthening home fightback.
Having claimed their first corner of the afternoon, Grant’s men then had a vociferous shout for handball against Yaya Toure waved away and sensing that a point was still up for grabs, the Israeli brought on Cole for Barrera, too.
But on 73 minutes, all that second half endeavour and enterprise evaporated when De Jong comfortably brushed off Spector before releasing Yaya Toure, who out-powered Tomkins as he made his way into the West Ham area, where he unleashed an angled six-yarder that ricocheted back off the near post and into the net off the oblivious Green.
Then, with 10 minutes remaining, City confirmed their spot as joint-leaders, when Silva slid a precision pass behind Matthew Upson and Tomkins for Johnson to coolly round the helplessly exposed Green and net City’s third goal.
The England wide boy’s fourth goal of the season was the catalyst for that mass East End evacuation and when Obinna floated over a late corner, sadly there were few Hammers fans left to see Tomkins head home an 88th-minute consolation that deflected in off Kolo Toure.
HAMMERS: Green, Faubert, Ben Haim, Upson, Tomkins, Barrera (Cole 70), Stanislas (Dyer 65), Parker, Spector, Obinna, Piquionne (Hines 80). Unused: Stech, Reid, Boa Morte, Kovac.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart, Boateng, Zabaleta, K. Toure, Kompany, De Jong, Barry, Y. Toure, Silva (Milner 85), Jo, Balotelli (Johnson 61). Unused: Given, Richards, Santa Cruz, Lescott, Vieira.
Attendance: 32,813 Referee: Phil Dowd