Someone had forgotten to remind Avram Grant that there was a stiff breeze blowing, so something as inevitable as relegation happened when the West Ham manager threw his notes towards his own bench in frustration near the end. The sight of the pages, skittering around the pitch as referee Howard Webb tried to retrieve them, would have been comic had it not also been a tragic metaphor for a man whose plans, if there ever were some, are in tatters. It will surely soon be someone else's job to gather up the pieces in the Championship.
At least Grant spared himself the embarrassment which seemed to be coming when he shaped to trap a ball which sailed into his technical area an hour earlier. He wisely pulled out of the manoeuvre, much as West Ham's co- owner David Sullivan had read the warning signs. Sullivan predicted before the game that his side had a 25-30 per cent chance of survival and the entirely empty front row of the directors' box on the West Ham side hinted at a club resigned to a second relegation in eight years.
With five players soon out of contract, Sullivan had questioned his "spoilt" stars' commitment and with the honourable exceptions of Rob Green and Thomas Hitzlsperger, a display bereft of energy and enterprise bore out that prophecy.
It did not prove to be the deluge which Manchester City had threatened in the opening 15 minutes and some defensive trouble, taken with several spurned opportunities, meant that the game always retained a trace of tension for Roberto Mancini – yet West Ham are not the only side for whom the wait is surely almost over now. The Eastlands perimeter hoardings are promoting the spring evening fixture against Tottenham which left Mancini looking a haunted man 12 months ago, though they need not fear them this time. Two wins will take City to Champions League qualification. Next Saturday's opposition are Everton – who have beaten City six times in seven – but the match a week tomorrow against Spurs, who trail them by seven points, could be a party, not another European play-off.
"We should wait but everything is in our hands because all the season we have stayed between first and fourth and so we deserve to go into the Champions League," said Mancini, who is beginning to look ahead already, with Udinese's Alexis Sanchez possibly his first summer signing, if the City players out on loan can be moved on. "We have another four games but we are not under pressure. We know we have a big chance. Our target was the Champions League [and] I think we did a good job, you know."
At least West Ham have Blackburn, Wigan and Sunderland to come – hardly the most unenviable run-in. "There is a pressure but it's a challenge," Grant insisted. "The challenge is to stay in the league and we still have a good chance to do it." But Scott Parker's injury had deprived him of a player in whose absence his side have not won in the league this season and stand-in captain Matthew Upson lasted 25 minutes before he limped off with a dead leg. As relegation fights go, it was not the Alamo. The sight of Mario Balotelli casually navigating a ball to David Silva with his left foot behind his standing leg inside the first 10 minutes looked ominous.
The avalanche soon came. Nigel de Jong's first City goal after two and a half years at the club was driven in from 30 yards after Vincent Kompany's header from Adam Johnson's corner rebounded out off Hitzlsperger on 10 minutes. Danny Gabbidon, looking every bit the makeshift left-back he was, offered the most fruitful flank to exploit. Pablo Zabaleta left him floundering as he eased ahead to collect Silva's gracefully clipped pass and play in the centre which Lars Jacobsen, his feet all a-tangle, drove into the roof of his own net.
City's game became sloppy. Robbie Keane should have pulled West Ham back in the game but tarried too long on Hitzlsperger's through-ball and allowed Joe Hart to save with his left knee. Keane's more assured header minutes later navigated a Hitzlsperger free kick to Joleon Lescott, who handled the ball before it fell for Demba Ba to lash in.
It was a temporary setback and De Jong's precautionary departure with a muscle problem in his heel was no impediment. The effortless Silva helped a ball to Balotelli who hit the bar after the break. Silva was then guilty of his own procrastination in front of goal, eventually squaring for the Italian whose shot was hacked off the line by James Tomkins.
The profligacy was not part of Mancini's gameplan. But his own match notes remain very much in his grasp.
Booked: Manchester City Zabaleta, Barry, A Johnson. West Ham United Gabbidon.
Man of the match Silva
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire)
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