On St David's Day, and with Craig Bellamy returning to West Ham, it seemed a distinct possibility, especially given the abuse doled out to him, that the home supporters might end up regretting taunting a player who has made a habit of scoring against his former clubs. It was a Welshman who walked away with the plaudits, all right, but he was wearing a West Ham shirt and his name was Jack Collison.
The 20-year-old Wales international – born in Watford – was shuffled from left to right during the game but it left him unruffled when it came to the game's decisive moment, 20 minutes from time.
The reason for the positional swap had been Valon Behrami's injury, which led to the introduction of Savio Nsereko. When Savio broke from midfield and advanced on Shay Given, bringing a diving save from the Republic of Ireland international, Collison was there to lob the stranded goalkeeper from the rebound. "He's a great example. We're very lucky to have him," said his manager Gianfranco Zola, after a first win in six games. West Ham are seventh in the league. "Now I'm looking up the table," the Italian said, thinking of next season's Uefa Cup replacement, the Europa League.
After the distraught expressions on West Ham faces when Behrami was taken off on a stretcher, following five minutes' treatment, including being given oxygen, for his buckled left knee, it was Manchester City who were left to show the pain of a desperately below-par season.
Mark Hughes's men have won only once away from home in the league and that came against Sunderland, at the end of August, before Robinho joined. They may be in the last 16 of the Uefa Cup, but that is small consolation to Hughes after a display that showed all the cohesion of melting jelly. But Hughes was surprisingly upbeat. "We felt we deserved a draw and got caught by a sucker punch. But the away form is a concern," he conceded.
Much of the build-up to this game had been about Bellamy. He only stayed 18 months at Upton Park, scoring seven league goals, and his contribution here did not exactly cause pangs of longing in east London. The Welsh international was taken off with a knee complaint, after an underwhelming 66 minutes. The boos that greeted his name before kick-off were nothing compared to when he was replaced, although he appeared unmoved, laughing it all off as he departed the public's gaze.
Bellamy had set up one chance for City, in the first half, although when it reached Robinho, he was not expecting it and duly poked it wide of Rob Green's goal.
Robinho had a poor game. The Brazilian, criticised for his below-par performances on the road, had another chance to redeem himself after the interval, but with 14 minutes left he shot over from eight yards. The £31m Brazil international limped off just before the end, with an ankle injury, and must have been glad to see the back of this game. He, Bellamy, and captain Micah Richards are all doubts for the game against Aston Villa on Wednesday.
Behrami's injury was far more serious, and he was in hospital last night having a scan. The Swiss international attempted to tackle Wayne Bridge but instead his foot became stuck in the turf. He left to a standing ovation from a crowd who must have assumed they would not see him again until next season.
As City's season limps on, how many of these players will still be at the club in August is also now a matter for serious conjecture.
Goal: Collison (70) 1-0
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga; Behrami (Savio, 43), Kovac (Spector, 83), Parker, Collison; Di Michele (Lopez, 87), Cole Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Sears, Payne, Stanislas.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards (Caicedo, 15) Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge; De Jong (Bojinov, 89), Zabaleta; Ireland, Kompany, Robinho; Bellamy (Elano, 66) Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Vassell, Garrido, Berti.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: West Ham United: Kovac, Parker; Manchester City: Kompany, Ireland.
Man of the Match: Parker.
Attendance: 34,562.Reuse content