City’s malaise takes another twist after draw at West Ham
Enner Valencia and Sergio Aguero each scored twice as West Ham and Manchester City played to an absorbing 2-2 draw Saturday night at the Boleyn. City temporarily moved into second place on goal difference ahead of Arsenal with the draw, but Arsenal can retake the top slot in the league with a win over London rivals Chelsea on Sunday.
It was a fair result on the night but is likely to have left both Leicester and Arsenal quite happy as it was two more points dropped by City in what is shaping up to be a tight and unpredictable title chase. City’s road woes have been well documented, so it was with reason that West Ham stepped on the throttle from the opening whistle. It culminated in one of the fastest goals of the season.
Cheikhou Kouyate collected the ball down the left flank with barely 30 seconds off the clock, stormed past a rooted Yaya Toure and crossed in a fine ball that sat up near the spot for Valencia. Joe Hart had no chance at his far post, and with the clock on 52 seconds, West Ham had seized a 1-0 lead. Toure did not cover himself in glory on the play, but Nicolas Otamendi bit on Kouyate’s fake, leaving Valencia unmarked to score.
City looked stunned, but Aguero emerged to put the team on his back, and saw his first shot of the match come agonizingly back off the post just five minutes later. Sensing Adrian was vulnerable, Aguero ghosted into space wide left and lobbed the keeper, who was off-balance. But his shot trickled along the goal-line, to hit the inside of the far post, ricocheting back into play.
Still, that was a clear signal of intent from the Argentine, and he would tie the game up just minutes later. Match referee Craig Pawson awarded a penalty on nine minutes after Carl Jenkinson and Aguero clashed in the box with the striker steaming in on Adrian. The penalty looked soft, but Aguero made no mistake, sending the keeper to his right, while Kun buried the ball to his left.
That might have signaled a smash-and-grab was on for City — but not against this new look, high-energy hammers side under Slaven Bilic. Indeed, the Hammers were unlucky to be level at the break after a series of fine chances that culminated in a world-class stop from Hart. Martin Demichelis was carded for a deliberate foul on Valencia.
Lucky not to see red, — Otamendi was fortunately judged to be providing cover on what was arguably a goal-scoring chance — Demichelis also breathed a long sigh of relief after Hart denied Dmitri Payet’s ensuing free kick. Payet sent the ball up and over the wall, a heatseeker to the top corner, that somehow Hart got a mitt on to parry the ball away.
That set up a grandstand second half that saw both teams trade jabs before the Hammers landed a real blow. Michail Anotonio had been unlucky not to nod the ball in at the far post in the 50th minute after Mark Noble hung up a lovely cross; at the other end, Fabian Delph blew through the back line and beat Adrian, but saw his shot whip back off the post.
Valencia finally grabbed the breakthrough in the 57th, off a routine throw-in. Getting inbetween Otamendi and Hart, Valencia chested the ball down from Antonio and then had a simple finish that left Hart and Otamendi exchanging words. It was miserable defending and it will increase the scrutiny on Otamendi, who was expected to be a top-class defender in the Premier League but has so far been a disappointment.
Aguero again came to the rescue, finally breaking West Ham’s resistance with ten minute to play. Kelechi Iheanacho played the provider, flicking a pass into Aguero’s stride for the Argentine to blast the ball through Adrian and in to tie the game up.
Substitute Nikica Jelavic nearly nicked a winner late for the Hammers, getting a free header after a Payet corner, but he could not put it on Hart’s frame.