Brain McBride, Eric Wynalda and the Fox Soccer crew were done with Roberto Mancini. The City manager had committed the cardinal sin — discussing job offers that came his way this summer without the normal shroud of BS that accompanies manager speak. “I was close with seven or eight teams but I prefer to stay here.” That’s the quote that drew ire, not his insistence on employing three at the back — a formation that has clearly failed him. Would he really have left the EPL for Ligue 2? Honestly? With the way his future at City was discussed last season, perhaps this was his brand of retribution.
City’s arrival at Upton Park was immediately hampered by James Milner’s injury in warm ups. West Ham started well and should’ve been ahead after Kevin Nolan’s brilliant strike in the fourth minute. The play was incorrectly ruled offside, as Edin Dzeko played the Hammers captain onside. I pray for the television Big Sam watches the replay on. In the eighteenth minute Yossi Benayoun’s volley was pushed onto the crossbar by Joe Hart, easily the Hammers best chance on goal in the first half.
The visitors asserted themselves soon after. Tevez, Nasri and Barry — Milner’s replacement — played catch from right to left. The Hammers defense did well to keep the score level — James Collins in particular stood out, blocking a Balotelli shot that was destined for the top left corner in the 31st minute. In fact most of City’s shots were directed to Jaaskelainen’s right. City’s buildup – Nasri in particular, short sleeve and gloves combination aside — was pretty if not ineffective. After some ‘long ball’ that saw the teams trade possession with disinterest the half mercifully drew to a close. Surely the final 45 would be more open.
After a brief spurt that saw Dzeko’s width cause West Ham’s defense issues, it was the home side that mounted pressure. Headers from Nolan and Andy Carroll missed just wide within minutes, making City pay for loose play at the back.
Soon after it was West Ham’s turn to give the ball away cheaply. City made camp in the Hammers zone, only to be foiled by poor touch in the final third. Yes play had opened up, but it didn’t seem like either side knew what to do with the space. An excellent Balotelli through ball was lifted into the sky by Tevez. The miss gave Mancini the push he needed. On came Sergio Aguero for Balotelli — who was derided for the 5,600th by the match commentators. Time Magazine covers don’t carry the clout they used to. Balotelli had words with Mancini. Roberto ignored them. Some things never change.
Gareth Barry’s miss in the 67th minute — controlled by his arm, yet uncalled by Howard Webb — summed up City’s prowess around Jaaskelainen’s goal: non-existent.
Nasri holding onto the ball for far too long when in possession. Primary criticism of his play for France
— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) November 3, 2012
Though he was shaky at times, Jaaskelainen was good when called upon, stopping an Aguero blast that kept the score level as the game lurched into the final ten minutes. The substitute, tired of waiting for Nasri to give up the ball, proceeded to fire strikes at will into the Hammers box — the home side’s defense more than equal to the task.
The goals never came, and yet this fixture was more exciting than the match of the day — at least for me. Pressure will continue to mount on Mancini as City’s cross town rivals leave the weekend in first place. Sam Allardyce will be ecstatic with the result, his team more than deserving of a point. Just wait till he sees a replay of the Nolan ‘offside.’