Verdict: City 3 West Ham 1
City saw off an initially limp West Ham side with a brace from Tevez and a free-kick from the recalled Martin Petrov. Arguably this was the most convincing performance of the season so far. West Ham kept plugging away in the second half, but there seemed less danger of dropping points than in any of the other fixtures this season. This alone is a sign of how the team is progressing.
For the first time this season, Hughes agreed with Blue Days on the starting 11, so well done to him there! (Well ok, I had Richards down for full-back, but was happy enough to see Zabaleta and he did an admirable job).
Bellamy was moved into the middle to play alongside Tevez and you sense that given time, there could be a real understanding between the pair of them. The formation suited Carlos who was less isolated than in the previous two matches.
Having Petrov restored to the left wing gave us an old-fashioned cutting edge down the flanks, and West Ham never really got to grips with the Bulgarian. With Wright-Phillips making up the attacking quartet, this left only room for Barry and de Jong in the middle. Thanks to the industry of de Jong in particular, and the strikers in front of him, this was enough to combat the Hammers.
Carlton Cole alone posed a genuine danger up front for West Ham, trying his luck against both Toure and Lescott. In their differing styles, they both dealt with him and can be credited for that. Seeing Zabaleta at right-back was no great surprise and he went on to have a decent game, looking sharper than against Fulham last week.
From the kick-off, we took a few minutes to get going, but when we did, we scored. Petrov doing what he does best, getting to the byline, and crossing for an unmarked Tevez to put us one up. The Argentine could have had a couple more as an injury depleted West Ham defence looked all at sea. One turn and shot hit a stansion at the back of the goal, while another strike was skied over the bar.
We were soon to rue these missed chances as West Ham equalised with what felt like a soft goal, when we failed to adequately clear a free-kick. Given the lack of height in our team selection, there was always going to be a danger at set pieces, and so it proved when Lescott’s header was returned with a shot that Cole diverted in.
In terms of defending set pieces, a change of personnel may be needed for the next game at Villa where Martin O’Neill’s men will look to test us aerially.
West Ham were lifted by the goal, but thankfully we were soon back in front thanks to a Petrov free-kick. It was a decent strike into the corner, but Green might have done better. The England keeper fatefully started to edge left, and couldn’t get down to his right-hand corner in time.
City turned on the style as two good moves down the right resulted in a goalbound header from Bellamy, and a cracking first-time shot from Petrov. Both were held by a grateful Green.
The second half saw a more spirited display from West Ham, even after Tevez made it three. It was more shocking defending as a free-kick from Bellamy was nodded home. Annoyingly, West Ham kept pressing, with the inflamed Diamanti needing to be told to calm down by the referee.
Hughes felt sufficiently confident to introduce Santa Cruz, who received a great cheer. He did ok when he came on, and there was definitely a sense of him easing himself back. Both knees appeared to have blue tape over them which wasn’t the most reassuring sign.
City continued to create chances on the break and Petrov had the best when finding himself through on goal. Cutting back inside a defender, he hammered the ball just beyond the top corner. He looked furious with himself for some time afterwards, and you have to wonder whether that might have been his chance of making next weeks starting eleven going over the bar.
The final piece of good news was the return of Michael Johnson. He came on in the 89th minute for an off colour Barry, and found time to show a couple of good touches. Let’s just hope he doesn’t suffer a reaction.
“I thought some of our play was excellent tonight.
“It was about getting the job done. We have seen the results over the weekend and we knew we were in for a challenge this evening.”
“Carlos was great – his movement and inter-change with Craig Bellamy, Martin Petrov and the midfield guys. And as the season progresses, that will get better.
“Carlos is an outstanding footballer. He has an awareness, an understanding of where others are and the way in which he can affect the game. With players of that ilk you have a heady mix.
It was iteresting to note that it was Wright-Phillips who made way for Santa Cruz, rather than Petrov. The Bulgarian certainly posed more of an attacking threat. Hughes will have an interesting selection headache for the Villa game if Adebayor is available.
The Togo man would be likely to come back alongside Tevez. Bellamy can move out to a flank, but which one? If Wright-Phillips keeps his place ahead of Petrov, it can only be because of his tracking back. As an attacking threat the Bulgarian delivers more frequently.