The competition and the place it holds in store at Wembley are of incidental importance. It was, instead, the night that Sam Allardyce will surely look back upon as the point of no return on this chapter of his career.
The concession of six goals did not carry the humiliation of shipping one less than that number at Nottingham Forest three days earlier, but it was a wretched occasion which reached its nadir 15 minutes before the end. That was the moment the West Ham manager stood in the rain on the edge of his technical area, facing off the supporters who hurled the words “F*** off Sam Allardyce” at him, again and again.
He was helpless. He has staked this season on players like Joe Cole and Stewart Downing – experienced internationals with 90 England caps between them – who are required for such occasions but who instead vanished into the wings. The only change that worked for Allardyce was the replacement trousers he pulled on during the half time interval. At least they kept his legs dry.
It can’t be said that no player felt Allardyce’s indignity. Mark Noble, whose attempts to hold the line in front of defence were wretched, hurled the expletive his team’s fans had used at the City supporters who taunted him on his own departure, and disappeared immediately down the tunnel. The Spanish goalkeeper, Adrian, was called upon to make half a dozen fine saves, as City took their extraordinary home goals tally to 59 in 15 games.
But the laconic way the opposition drifted through West Ham’s midfield like a training pitch and exposed the technical deficiencies of Allardyce’s defence was pitiful. Finding a manager to save club like this will be difficult but the contrast with the energy of Gus Poyet’s buoyant Sunderland, 24 hours earlier, reveals the urgency of the problem. The Premier League match on Saturday at Cardiff City, a club a place and a point above them, is a more significant for the east London side and the prospect of points there looks slim. Allardyce sounded like a man who knows it’s over, when he talked in the depths of the stadium after the match.
In Pictures: Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
In Pictures: Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
1/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
Alvaro Negredo celebrates the first of his three goals
2/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
Alvaro Negredo slides in to score his second goal
3/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
Yaya Toure came up with City's third
4/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
Sam Allardyce cuts a frustrated figure as he watches as his team suffers yet another heavy defeat
5/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
Alvaro Negredo completes his hat-trick with City's fourth
6/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
Joey O'Brien clashes with Edin Dzeko
7/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
West Ham United's players stand dejected after they concede a fifth goal
8/8 Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0
Edin Dzeko completes the rout with his second, Manchester City's sixth
As the full horror unfolded on the pitch, Allardyce slumped down in the Etihad seat that looked too big for him, the hood of his anorak slung haphazardly over his head as the early evening rain sheeted down. He’d spoken about the opposition in a way which suggested that he felt they merited a language befitting their quality. “The people who deliver the balls – they provide expert deliveries and they are high quality technicians who can drop a ball into an area for their guys,” he said on Tuesday. It was an uncannily precise description of the way that City opened the floodgates. Yaya Touré ‘dropped’ the ball in from 30 yards, give or take, levering it over the shoulder of Alvaro Negredo who let to fall to a comfortable height and then swatted it, first time, on the full.
There seemed to be the makings of a cricket score even then – and someone pointed out that it was an England cricket score that Allardyce was needing. He loitered in the large seat, letting his assistant Neil McDonald venture out into the technical area, and looking like a man who knew the game was up. His players provided something considerably worse than lamentable.
A paradigm of the inequality between teams came midway through the first half when Toure jarred his left knee when plunging into a challenge to prevent Mohamed Diamé escaping with the ball and was left writhing on the pitch, raising his hand for help. City played on regardless; unable, it seemed, to halt their own irresistible flow as first David Silva, then Samir Nasri, drew saves from the goalkeeper Adrian.
Only when the Spaniard had clawed the second shot away did they stop and watch Touré get some attention, limping from the field and then returning, unbreakable as he is.
The defence Allardyce has sought to patch with Roger Johnson’s arrival on loan from Wolves, was ripped away again within 15 minutes when Edin Dzeko slid the ball inside the 30-year-old and Negredo ran onto it, his first touch taking him between the central defenders and into the area’s left hand channel, from where he swept a shot which sailed high into the net off the left hand of the beleaguered goalkeeper.
The manager took to his feet then, in time to see Touré seize the ball from Negredo in the centre circle and run the length of the pitch at the backpedalling Johnson, drifting to the right of him before steering the ball away from his direction of travel, into the left hand corner of the net.
The onslaught was unremitting. West Ham arrived early for the second period, with Carlton Cole on in place of Modibo Maïga, a striker whom it was a surprise to recall had been present in the first place. But the half was only four minutes old before Negredo completed his hat-trick, waiting patiently and unhindered in so much space on the right hand side of West Ham’s box that after Nasri had bounced off Joe Cole’s challenge and Silva had laid the ball across, the Spaniard could languidly draw back his right foot and curl home for 4-0.
Dzeko added the fifth ten minutes later, sliding in ahead of Joey O’Brien to meet Clichy’s low cross and wrapped up the night, meeting substitute Aleksandr Kolarov’s cross to lash home from ten yards. City manager Manuel Pellegrini has not won a trophy for nearly a decade, though the state of this competition’s other contenders this week suggest it will be easier than he imagined.
The night ended with the curious spectacle of the West Ham players throwing their shirts in among the travelling contingent of 4,000 who had spent the night engaging in abuse of the manager. It was surprising that they actually wanted them. It will be even more remarkable if West Ham’s owners David Gold and David Sullivan abide by their announcement that they will stick with their manager.
Man of the match Nasri.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee J Moss (West Yorkshire).