West Ham 2-2 Man City (Bowen 24′, 45′ | Grealish 49′, Coufal 69′, Mahrez missed pen 86′)
We have a title race, and the quadruple is still a thing. Providing Liverpool continue with their indefatigable pursuit of Manchester City with a win at Southampton on Tuesday there is jeopardy in the final weekend of the season. We have West Ham’s refusal to buckle and the beautiful variables of professional sport to thank for that.
Manchester City’s missed penalty with four minutes remaining will hurt more than Real Madrid’s Champions League resurrection at the Bernabeu should Liverpool somehow prevail a week hence.
Having recovered from a two-goal deficit at half-time, Riyad Mahrez spurned the opportunity to ease City’s passage. With Kevin De Bruyne on the pitch, that decision might haunt Pep Guardiola more than a selection that left a centre half, Nathan Ake, on the bench in the midst of a supposed defensive crisis.
That said, what City missed here more than a centre half was a centre forward, a point of difference in the attack, a player like Erling Haaland, indeed, to get first to the blaze of balls City fizzed into the West Ham box, not to mention knock one in from the spot.
The temptation to blame the outcome on a crisis of City’s injured defenders should on balance be resisted. As City have shown throughout the Guardiola years the most efficient way to defend is to deny opponents the ball.
The loss of Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias and John Stones was always a theoretical concern for an ensemble that routinely dines on 70 per cent-plus possession, and perhaps why Guardiola felt secure enough to start with Ake on the bench. The match played out to the familiar City patterns, if not in front of goal.
West Ham changed the complexion of the afternoon with a ball over the top to the ever-ready Jarrod Bowen, who won the sprint from the halfway line against defenders who were naturally facing the wrong way.
Bowen was five yards clear in the time it took Aymeric Laporte to respond. Usain Bolt, a winner in this stadium a decade ago, would not have made up the ground in time. The cheers on Merseyside could be heard in Stratford when Bowen rounded Ederson to reconfigure the title race.
City refused to see it that way and immediately resumed the pounding. If there is a problem with City’s approach it is finding a different key against a team as resolutely drilled defensively as West Ham.
By Oliver Young-Myles
West Ham (4-2-3-1)
- Fabianski –
- Coufal –
- Dawson –
- Zouma –
- Cresswell –
- Rice –
- Soucek –
- Bowen –
- Lanzini –
- Fornals –
- Noble –
- Johnson – N/A
- Yarmolenko – N/A
Man City (4-3-3)
- Ederson –
- Cancelo –
- Fernandinho –
- Laporte –
- Zinchenko –
- Bernardo –
- Rodri –
- De Bruyne –
- Mahrez –
- Grealish –
- Jesus –
A minute before the break City fell to a second route one ambush. Lukasz Fabianski sent one down the throat of Tomas Soucek. Bernardo Silva was never going to win that duel. Michail Antonio hooked the loose ball forward to Bowen, who timed his run perfectly and then rubbed it in by finishing like Kevin De Bruyne.
City responded to the threat of doom within four minutes of the restart, Jack Grealish smashing one in from the edge of the box. Amazing how effective Grealish can be when he hits a ball first time instead of smothering it in touches.
Even after Vladimir Coufal headed into his own goal, West Ham had chances to win it through Antonio and Bowen before Gabriel Jesus was sliced down in the box. As he had done for the majority of the game Fabianski kept the ball out of his goal with a terrific diving stop to his left to set up a tense finale in round 38.
Talking of which, with 15 minutes remaining Mark Noble made his final home appearance after 18 years at the club. Earlier Noble received the Danny Dyer tribute treatment, the hard man’s hard man taking Nobes to his heart on the big screen. He deserved better. He deserved authenticity. Dyer is to tough nuts what the Boleyn is to Upton Park, a fiction. Noble was a loyal club man, an honest tryer, a pie and mash advocate who embodied the spirit of the Hammers. That’s why West Ham fans loved him.
The round of applause after 16 (squad number) minutes, and the Trever Brooking send-off afterwards meant more.