We are getting to the business end of this turbulent season, and the widely held view is that it could be the home form that keeps City up. Because of the international break the Everton away game seems like an age ago, and despite the FA appeal, Tom Huddlestone was still (wrongly) suspended. Sam Clucas replaced him and Niasse also returned to the starting eleven, with Elabdellaoui missing out through injury.
A 3-5-2 formation took to the field as follows-
Maguire – Ranocchia – Davies
Elmo – Markovic – Clucas – N’Diaye – Robertson
Niasse – Hernandez
It could well have been the pressure of this “must win” game, but City started poorly, and continued to under-perform throughout the first half.
Ex-Tiger Robert Snodgrass was in the Hammers midfield, but the Scot was seen more as Pantomime Villain than returning former hero, and was roundly booed from the off.
Mark Noble had been dropped to the bench following a number of lacklustre performances for the Hammers, so Andy Carroll wore the captain’s armband for the visitors. And it was he who opened the scoring. The lanky target man was dominating all the early exchanges, and on 17 minutes a cross came into the City box, Davies mistimed his jump, Carroll chested the ball down and fired past Eldin Jakupovic. 0-1.
City didn’t seem to take the goal as a wake-up call, and continued to play poorly, constantly coughing up possession, with the back three looking all at sea. It wasn’t looking good as the ref blew for half time.
However Marco Silva could see what was wrong, and just as importantly knew how to fix it.
Grosicki replaced the struggling Davies, switching things to 4-4-2. More cover on the wings cut-off the supply line to Carroll, who only had one real chance in the second half – a header straight at Jakupovic. The flat back four settled things down, and it was from a well-worked break that City equalised on 53 minutes.
Markovic broke quickly and found Grosicki with a cross-field ball. The Pole tried to cut inside his defender and Robertson, who had followed up intelligently picked up possession before slotting the ball low into the West Ham net. 1-1.
The goal seemed to deflate the visitors, and City tried to press home the advantage with N’Diaye hitting the post and Grosicki shooting just wide from the rebound.
Henriksen and Maloney replaced N’Diaye and Hernandez with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, but it was another defender who scored to take all three points. Grosicki played a decent corner into the near post on 87 minutes, and Ranocchia powered his header past Randolph to make it 2-1.
Not a great performance from City, but a crucial win nevertheless. A case of Never mind the quality, feel the three points. Silva now has an impressive run of 39 home games unbeaten (spanning back to his previous clubs). ‘Boro at home is next, another “must win” home game against a struggling side. More of the same please Mr Silva.
Mark Sellers (@mrmarksellers)