De Jong 10, Zabaleta 15 – Ba 33
Manchester City opened up a seven point gap on Liverpool and Tottenham in the race for the fourth and final Champions League spot after defeating a spirited West Ham side. Roberto Mancini’s side profited from a rampant start and moved into a two-goal lead within 15 minutes. After their sluggish beginning, West Ham were more than equal to City but couldn’t find a way to even the scores.
The game raced from end-to-end as both teams searched for the fourth goal of the game right up until the final whistle. Knowing an equaliser and the point that would come with it would be vital to their chances of survival, West Ham United pushed a number of bodies forward. In the absence of Mark Noble and Scott Parker, who were ruled out through injury, Thomas Hitzlsperger acted as the engine of West Ham’s midfield. He drove Avram Grant’s side forward and started the move that lead to Demba Ba’s consolation goal just after the half hour.
West Ham, never the soundest of teams defensively, were left vulnerable to quick breaks by the home side. Luckily for David Silva and Mario Balotelli, their failed attempts to increase the Manchester City lead went unpunished against the spirited Hammers who squandered a couple of late half-chances. If the game were earlier in the season Grant would have been more than pleased with the performance, but at a stage when points are crucial he would have preferred a poor performance and points as opposed to what West Ham ended up with.
The visitors were punished for a really slow start. Manchester City were first to every ball, sharp with their passing and they quickly identified Daniel Gabbidon, filling in for the ineligible Wayne Bridge at left-back, as the weak link of the defence.
The Welsh international wasn’t adequately protected by Luis Boa Morte and he was quickly got at by City’s Adam Johnson. The England winger twice combined with the roving Silva to fashion two chances for City before Nigel De Jong stroked Roberto Mancini’s team in front from a poorly cleared corner. The battling midfielder found the bottom corner with a powerful hit after the West Ham defence failed to follow their clearance out quick enough.
Pablo Zabaleta then doubled the lead after more success for City against the struggling Gabbidon. The Argentinian full-back exchanged smart passes with Silva, rushed into the area, shrugged off pressure from the full-back and forced the ball across goal. Lars Jacobsen tried to clear his lines but ended up smashing the effort into the roof of the net.
Two down, West Ham finally settled and got their act together. Hitzlsperger and Jonathan Spector eventually found their rhythm in the centre of the park but the game was already lost. Ba pounced on a loose ball and fired beyond Joe Hart after a cross by the German had wreaked havoc in the City penalty area. The goal inspired the Hammers to seek an equaliser and they created the majority of chances without ultimately scoring the goal they desperately needed.
The result leaves the Hammers three points off safety and meant they were the only side of the bottom six not to gain any points this weekend.