Sunday, 1 May 2011

Manchester City 2 West Ham 1

Nigel de Jong fires in his first ever goal for Manchester City in the 2-1 win over West Ham at Eastlands Nigel de Jong fires in his first ever goal for Manchester City in the 2-1 win over West Ham at Eastlands
Goals: de Jong (10), Jacobsen og (15)
Bookings: Zabaleta (34), Barry (67), A. Johnson (68)

Goals: Ba (33)
Bookings: Gabbidon (49)

Henceforth, May the first will no longer be known as May Day. It will become De Jong Day.
And in years to come, elderly City fans will celebrate it, and tell their grandkids of the day when they saw the great City player score his first – and possibly his only – goal for the club.
It came at the 94th time of asking, and was as covered in importance as it was dripping in spectacle, a 25-yard drive of great precision.
The last time the tigerish midfielder hit the back of the net, in March 2008, few people in Manchester had heard of Abu Dhabi, and he was plying his trade for Hamburg against Frankfurt.
But his goal set the Blues on the road to a vital, and ultimately edgy, victory against a West Ham side which refused to lie down and take the thrashing which the opening minutes threatened.
Pablo Zabaleta forced Lars Jacobsen into conceding an own goal for the second, but Demba Ba’s goal meant that the Blues were pushed all the way by a side fighting for its Premier League life.
Roberto Mancini, astonishingly, picked the same 18 for the third match in succession, quite a feat for a man who makes Claudio Ranieri look like a model of consistency in team selection.
Not that he had a lot of choice, with Carlos Tevez and Micah Richards still on the injury list, but there were strong cases for Edin Dzeko and James Milner to get their chances.
He was entirely vindicated in a blistering opening 15 minutes, when City did exactly what they did at Blackburn – but with goals.
The nervy Hammers, languishing at the bottom of the table and still horrifyingly aware of what Yaya Toure did to them in the Blues 3-1 win at Upton Park in December, simply sat and awaited their fate, like a hedgehog on a dual carriageway.
Allowed space and time to drop deep, David Silva sharpened his rapier and Yaya hefted his cudgel, and even Nigel de Jong could see the possibilities.
Silva and Yaya had the first attempts, but it was de Jong who ended his amazing goal drought on ten minutes.
He has promised the City fans it would be something special when it came, and he wasn’t kidding!
Aleks Kolarov’s corner was cleared to the edge of the box and the Dutchman thrashed it with some precision through a crowded area, and even managed to bounce it just ahead of goalkeeper Robert Green just to make sure.
The Blues were cock-a-hoop, the Hammers could feel the trapdoor twitching beneath their feet, and we started to check the stat books for City’s biggest recent wins.
That optimism was confirmed five minutes later, with another goal from another unlikely source, even though he has not initially been credited with it.
At least Zabaleta previously had two goals in 116 appearances, prolific compared to de Jong, but not many people had him down as a goalscorer on their betting slips.

The goal was fashioned by the irrepressible Silva, playing a cute one-two with the sallying Zabaleta.
There was still plenty of work to do as Silva’s return chip was chest-high, but the Argentine’s control was exemplary and his shot low and hard.
The powers-that-be decided the goal belonged to the unfortunate Lars Jacobsen, who made a poor attempt to clear, but the dubious goals panel may yet reverse that decision.
They tend to work on the basis that if the ball would have gone in anyway, the attacking player gets it, and the ball was certainly rolling in.
The Poznan was in full swing – or rather bounce – the sun was shining, and the seven-point gap between the Blues and pursuing Spurs and Liverpool looked like a yawning chasm.
And then, just as at Ewood Park six days earlier, the momentum dropped, the Hammers made a cute tactical switch by putting Demba Ba out on the left, and the blue shirts went from satin to horsehair in a matter of heartbeats.
City were grateful to Joe Hart for a fine save from Robbie Keane when the experienced striker sprang the offside trap but found England’s number one in resolute mood.
But with the Blues suddenly giving the ball away, as if dreaming of Wembley days in May, the visitors were encouraged.
They pulled one back on 33 minutes, Thomas Hitzlsperger’s cross deflecting to Demba Ba off the hand of Joleon Lescott. Before ref Howard Webb had time to call the spot kick, the West Ham man had swept the ball home.
Balotelli missed a great chance to seal it on 55 minutes when the Blues broke in numbers, Silva leading the charge.
He freed the Italian, who measured a curling shot beyond Green, only to see it bounce off the bar and straight to the feet of the offside Yaya.
And if City fans were frustrated by that miss, they were apoplectic when the Blues again broke in numbers, Yaya freeing Silva with a gorgeous through ball.
The little man, one-on-one, checked back, allowing a phalanx of defenders to cover. He might have shot himself, but chose to lay the ball left for Balotelli.
The man with a shot like a howitzer opted for a casual swing rather than breaking the net, and James Tomkins raced back to keep it out.
Mancini decided to mix it up, and give the Hammers something else to think about by bringing on Edin Dzeko, taking off Barry – who had been one of the stars – and shifting Yaya back to anchor midfield alongside de Jong.
Any plans Avram Grant might have had were scattered to the four winds as he dropped his notebook and the pages blew across the pitch!
By that point, the Hammers were as spent as their manager’s notes, as City staged a big finish, seeking that elusive third goal.
Silva almost claimed it, rounding off a neat passage of play with a shot which deflected up off a defender and forced Green into a flying save.

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