Sven Goran Eriksson's quest to win a domestic cup in four different countries survived its first test last night after a brave headed goal from Elano, the Brazilian playmaker, ensured that Manchester City emerged from a worrying dip in form to set up an FA Cup fourth-round trip to Sheffield United.
Eriksson, who has collected silverware in Italy, Portugal and Sweden, has been forced to question the progress of his team in recent weeks following a run that brought only one victory in seven games. Yet while this was not a convincing display against a West Ham side who could have progressed had they shown sharper finishing instincts or succeeded with a late penalty appeal, it was enough to revive spirits.
Tellingly the victory coincided with Elano's best display for some time, "since November" admitted Eriksson, and while a stooping 73rd-minute header among flying defensive boots was hardly a trademark goal from a player associated more with long-range free-kicks, it is clear that, with City still lacking an effective strike force, the Brazil international is integral to City's hopes of success this season.
"I certainly haven't seen him score with his head before," Eriksson said. "But it was good to see him back to his normal self. He has been injured twice but now he is training regularly."
Elano or not, City could have been out of the tie had Joe Hart not saved excellently from Dean Ashton in the first half and then again from Luis Boa Morte immediately after the break.
West Ham's problems up front mirrored those of the home side before Elano's contribution, with Nery Castillo and Darius Vassell offering no threat for City before Castillo was forced out of his home debut in the 33rd minute with a suspected dislocated shoulder. Eriksson said that, while the Mexican will have a scan today, the injury does not appear to be as bad as first thought and the performance of Rolando Bianchi, Castillo's replacement and a target for Torino and Juventus, will have done nothing to temper the manager's desire for his new signing to return.
Hart's excellence finally inspired his team-mates shortly before the hour when Martin Petrov at last found a way past Neill and drilled a low cross towards the far post where Bianchi bundled a difficult chance wide. The Bulgarian had found a weak spot in the West Ham backline and when he rounded Neill again in the 73rd minute, Bianchi headed against a post and Elano snapped up the rebound. A late shout for a penalty from West Ham was turned down and City were through.
"We're disappointed because we thought we could have nicked it," said West Ham's manager, Alan Curbishley. "And we were disappointed with the way Lee Bowyer was brought down late on. We've looked at it again and I think Joe Hart's momentum has taken him through and brought Lee down. But we'll take a lot out of this and we'll come back here on Sunday [when the sides meet in the league] and try and turn it around.".
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Corluka, Richards, Dunne, Ball; Hamann, Ireland, Elano, Petrov; Castillo (Bianchi, 35) Vassell (Fernandes, 81). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Onuoha, Garrido.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney; Ljungberg (Faubert, 62), Bowyer, Noble, Etherington; Boa Morte (Cole, 70), Ashton. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Mullins, Spector.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Durham).