Battling West Ham defy sickness bug in spirited showing but can’t stop Man City juggernaut
When it emerged before kick-off that illness had swept through the West Ham camp overnight, causing three players in line to start to be sent home at around 2pm this afternoon, David Moyes and those high up in the away end will inevitably have feared the worst.
Manchester City are the best team in the land — back at the summit of the Premier League with a game in hand on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. But they were made to work hard for it.
Moyes’s Hammers came into the fixture having lost their last two matches, and City are hard enough opponents without an in-house epidemic to contend with too.
Nor were these incidental absences. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are two of West Ham’s more experienced players, and Nayef Aguerd was a World Cup semi-finalist with Morocco just five months ago.
Moyes brought in Flynn Downes, Thilo Kehrer, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell, moved to a 5-4-1, and watched as his side barely had a kick between them in the opening exchanges.
When Pablo Fornals nicked it off Rodri after 12 minutes of play, the ball was on the halfway line and City were in no danger at all. But the sheer fact that they had lost possession made the home support gasp with shock. Truly this had been a one-sided start.
West Ham held firm, Ogbonna and Kehrer excellent in winning headers from crosses that City’s wide players had intended for Erling Haaland. At half-time, the 0-0 scoreline was a fair reflection of proceedings. Yes, Jack Grealish and Rodri had come close and then closer — Rodri striking the post — but West Ham did not deserve to be be behind.
They sit just four points off the drop zone, and who knows whether Leeds might enjoy a ‘new manager bounce’ now that Sam Allardyce is in post? Moyes knows his side need as many points as they can from their final four fixtures.
Were they about to get one against all the odds here? They weren’t. The returning Nathan Ake was left unmarked from a Riyad Mahrez free-kick five minutes after the restart, and it proved oh-so-costly for West Ham. Ake planted his header downwards and in.
When City get going, they really get going. “We’ve got the ball”, the West Ham travelling support cheekily chanted whenever their side fed off a scrap that City had left behind. The hosts smothered the Hammers, and soon enough Haaland had dinked the ball over Lukasz Fabianski for a record-breaking 35th Premier League goal in a single season.
Phil Foden scored a third that, in all honesty, ensured the final scoreline perhaps made for unfair reading. In the circumstances, their underdog status and bout of illness considered, West Ham battled well. Just not quite well enough to stop the best side around.