West Ham United and Manchester City drew even tonight in a 2-2 match at Upton Park. This game was a great performance by two teams playing in top form. City entered the evening seeking a climb towards the top of the Premier League table. West Ham was seeking to continue their season-long success against the traditional “top four” clubs, and possibly continue their quest for European football to be played in the new Olympic Stadium. The 35,000 fans that came on a cold, but otherwise dry, night to the Boleyn Ground were treated to an entertaining match.
With injuries to Andy Carroll and James Tomkins, Slavin Bilic elected to start Enner Valencia up top and Carl Jenkinson at back. Also of note, Alex Song started in the midfield as Bilic held Obiang and Ogbanna in reserve.
West Ham began the match masterful fashion. The pre-match bubbles had hardly cleared over the pitch before Cheikhou Kouyaté crossed to Valencia for a goal merely 54 seconds into the half. West Ham continued to keep the pressure on the City side of the pitch until Sergio Agüero came to life. Only minutes after the West Ham goal, he found Adrian off his line and sent a sure goal deflecting off the far-side post. Winston Reid was able to tap it back to Adrian who cleared it.
Only a minute later Agüero was at it again. Driving with the ball down the left side of the penalty area he was taken down by Carl Jenkinson and awarded a penalty kick. Sending Adrian diving the wrong direction, Agüero scored the equalizer on the spot kick. Jenkison was injured on the challenge and was replaced by former Leeds defender, Sam Byram, who signed with West Ham earlier in the week.
West Ham’s next best opportunity to take the lead was 30 minutes into the match when Martín Demichelis fouled Antonio as he was driving towards the goal. Center Referee, Craig Pawson, booked the Argentine but didn’t determine Antonio’s goal was so sure as to earn a red card, despite the encouragement of the West Ham supporters. This foul set up Dimitir Payet to work more of his magic from just beyond the penalty area. His free kick curved perfectly to the far right corner, and only the athletic dive of City keeper, Joe Hart, prevented the home side from taking the lead.
The first half was spirited and close. Mark Noble was booked late in the half for a foul on Jesus Navas. Three minutes of added time were played out and both sides seemed relieved to regroup off the pitch. While City held a 53%-47% possession advantage, West Ham had 2 shots on goal to City’s 1 shot.
The second half continued the fast pace of the first. Noble had a strong cross to Antonio whose shot slipped outside the post. Moments later, Fabian Delph almost took the lead for City when he hit the West Ham post. Finally West Ham did find their second goal (56’) off of one of Antonio’s signature long throw-ins. He was able to find Valencia a step ahead of the defenders for his second goal of the day.
Looking to shore up their lineups for the final push of the match, both Bilic and Pellegrini made some adjustments. Victor Moses came on for Antonio, while Raheem Sterling entered the match to give Manchester City another scoring threat. As regulation was soon to come to a close, Bilic also rested Valencia and brought on Jelavic, fresh off his first BPL goal last week at Newcastle.
Late in the match Aguero was able to find himself behind the West Ham defenders and even up the score (81’) which set the final minutes up for a feverish attempt to take three points or at least preserve the single point.
With the match 2-2 and the three minutes of added time expiring, Adrian gathered up a straight shot from Aguero and threw it to Victor Moses for a game winning counter attack. Moses charged forward but was fouled by Fernando which set up one final Payet freekick.
Payet lofted the kick into the attacking traffic and Kouyaté’s header hit the top of the crossbar, rolled out of play, and Pawson’s whistle ended the match. The 2-2 draw, wasn’t what the East London faithful wanted, but given the level of play by both sides, it wasn’t one West Ham supporters would complain about.
Much of the analysis of this match can be looked at through the lens of individual matchups. A week ago, who would have predicted that Alex Song vs. David Silva would be Song’s “return to greatness” match? Song played the best football he has shown all season. Many were surprised by his spot in the starting lineup, as he hasn’t played to top form since his return from injury in November.
Another matchup no one could have predicted was Raheem Sterling vs. Sam Byram. A week ago, many Hammers supporters weren’t even familiar with Sam Byram. Ten minutes into the match, he finds himself, at age 22, defending against one of the most expensive football sides in history. Byram, looked like an experienced professional, even earning a booking in the second half for an over-eager challenge.
The final matchup was James Collins vs. Aguero. Other than the late goal, which ensured the draw, Collins (and Reid) were at least able to keep Adrian out of peril for most of the day, and keep Aguero from making too many dangerous shots. Already the social media world has decided to blame Jenkinson for robbing West Ham of three points, but Bilic obviously has faith in the Arsenal loan. He continues to support Jenks and certainly feels like he has something to contribute as West Ham strive towards both a top four finish and an FA cup run over the coming months. Assuming his injury wasn’t significant, Carl Jenkinson will have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself.
West Ham takes a break from Premier League action and journey to Anfield for a fourth round FA Cup tie with Liverpool. The looming question this week: can West Ham defeat Liverpool three times in a single season? Can Liverpool recover from their exhausting 5-4 victory over Norwich? The Hammers follow that match up with a midweek hosting of relegation-threatened Aston Villa: Two great opportunities for the Claret and Blue to resume their winning ways. With Payet on the pitch and Valencia and Antonio playing such elite football, back to back wins should certainly be the expectation.