West Ham vs Manchester City match report: Diafra Sakho makes it seven in seven as Hammers sink Pellegrini's men at Upton Park

West Ham United 2 Manchester City 1

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The Independent Football

So, what exactly is the West Ham way? Sir Alex Ferguson, who sought guidance in a touching show of loyalty to his faithful retainer Sam Allardyce, received the required answer on Saturday lunchtime. It has developed so markedly it almost corresponds to myth and legend.

The concept of Upton Park as the cradle of football civilisation, the crucible which turned England into World Cup winners, remains risible, but this year’s model is closer in spirit to those sides who spawned the spirit of The Academy.

Manchester City, who will fall eight points behind Chelsea should Manchester United lose at Old Trafford on Sunday, will testify to West Ham’s potency. This was not one of the champions’ diffident performances, but defeat was deserved despite their intermittent dramas, compelling hard-luck stories and a David Silva goal for the ages.

It is not only bubbles which fade and die at the Boleyn Ground these days. The Big Sam stereotype, of a manager whose teams turn Route One into the Highway from Hell, melts away under sustained scrutiny. He was about as popular in these parts as Millwall, one of his former clubs, before the start of the season, when he was a short-priced favourite for the sack. Emboldened by the club’s presence in the top four and perhaps mellowed by a fond kiss on the cheek from Russell Brand, the manager allowed himself a gentle reminiscence.

“Too many people dwell upon the past,” he said, with a sardonic smile. “It is well documented, but I’m still here. I’m doing my job like I’ve always done.”

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As Manuel Pellegrini, his opposite number at Manchester City, pointed out with more than a hint of self-interest, it is still early days, but West Ham’s achievement merits more than grudging praise. City were beaten by a complete performance, in which everyone, from the admirably elastic goalkeeper Adrian to the record-breaking scorer Diafra Sakho, played their part.


West Ham pressed high and hard, won more than their share of second balls and have found a shape which compensates for a minority of possession. Bodies were thrown into harm’s way without a moment’s hesitation, and the howl of triumph by James Collins at the final whistle symbolised their defensive defiance.

Stewart Downing, at the tip of the midfield diamond, is unrecognisable from the dilettante of old. Alex Song is the sort of defensive midfield player Arsenal, his former club, so desperately lack. He was an incongruous sight in gloves and shorts pulled high above thighs with the radius of a century-old redwood, but he dominated the match.

Joe Hart of Manchester City fails to stop the header by Diafra Sakho

Allardyce likened his influence to that of Fernando Hierro and Jay Jay Okocha on his hallmark Bolton team: “Quality players look forward to the big games,” he reflected. “Lesser players get a bit anxious. Song led us as a team today. The rest of the lads responded to him.”

City’s defence were unnerved by the frightening pace of Enner Valencia and undone by the phenomenal finishing ability of Sakho, a bargain purchase from Metz who has scored a record six goals in six Premier League games, but sustained a late shoulder injury.

Each has adapted impressively and immediately to the intensity of his new environment, but they are not the only indicators of inspired summer recruitment. Their presence reduces the temptation to take the easier option when Andy Carroll is fit, that of lashing the ball towards the Bigg Market’s answer to the Divine Ponytail, Roberto Baggio.

Listen to some of Allardyce’s detractors and his full-backs require a passport to stray beyond the halfway line. Yet Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Creswell offer attacking options in a system that requires unceasing application and rewards unrelenting discipline.

The return from injury of second- half substitute Cheikhou Kouyaté will add timely steel to the midfield, where Mark Noble thrived after surviving a dubious two-footed challenge from Sergio Aguero that would have been punished harshly by a more disciplinarian referee than Martin Atkinson.

West Ham established a bridgehead midway through the first half when Morgan Amalfitano turned the ball in at the far post after a brilliant burst into the left-hand side of the area from Valencia, whose momentum after gathering and cutting back a shrewd pass from Song propelled him into the third row of the City fans behind the goal.

City didn’t respond adequately to the shock until the final half-hour, when Aguero and Yaya Touré hit the woodwork, and Adrian’s reflexes proved equal to anything they threw at him. Silva’s goal was wondrous, but too little, too late.

It was, though, worth recording for posterity. He drifted past four players in an angled run across the penalty area and curled an unlikely shot into the far corner. That signalled an increasingly desperate onslaught, but the insurance of Sakho’s 74th-minute goal, a far-post header from a Downing cross which was clawed out by Hart after it had crossed the line, was sufficient. “Valencia and Sakho don’t really realise just how big an impact they are making,” said Allardyce, who can never be accused of lacking self-awareness. He knows he is flavour of the month, and will take every plaudit coming his way.

West Ham (4-2-3-1): Adrian; Jenkinson, Collins, Reid, Cresswell; Noble, Song; Amalfitano (Kouyaté, 66), Downing, Sakho (Nolan, 88); Valencia (Cole, 75).

Manchester City (4-1-3-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Clichy (Kolarov, 77); Fernando (Milner, 77); Navas, Touré, Silva; Aguero, Dzeko (Jovetic, 58).

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

Man of the match: Song (West Ham)

Match rating: 8/10