It was like watching one of those episodes of Doctor Who in which all the Time Lords appear at once. Virtually everyone who has managed Manchester City in the past 20 years, from Peter Reid to Sven-Goran Eriksson, was at Eastlands to watch a team underpinned with resources they would have dreamed of handling, sweep its way to within three points of the summit with a game in hand.
And yet this is a Manchester City side infused with the spirit of two men who were not in the audience. Not since Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison's brilliant, uneasy alliance at Maine Road have City looked like credible title challengers.
It is only September but the manner in which they swatted aside West Ham was in keeping with everything else they have done this season. It was stylish, brilliant and slightly arrogant. Craig Bellamy thought this the best team he has ever played in and since he turned out for a Newcastle side that twice qualified for the Champions League and played for Liverpool when they overcame Barcelona in the Nou Camp, that is quite a statement.
"I thought they were absolutely fantastic," said the West Ham manager, Gianfranco Zola. "I was really impressed with City. They will be up there in the top four at the end of the season. I am certain of that."
Mark Hughes is not a clubbable manager and admits to few truly close friends on the circuit, although the embrace he gave Zola spoke volumes of their time together at Chelsea. What followed was purely business.
What links Manchester City and West Ham, apart from a passion for free-flowing football, is the mournful nature of their battle hymns. Both Blue Moon and I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles contain within them the acceptance of disappointment, although in West Ham's case, it is a theme that is likely to resonate all season. "I expect much more from my team," said Zola. "You cannot come to grounds like these and give presents to the opposition. I am angry with myself and angry with the players because there has to be more of a rapport on the pitch."
It was the kind of defending that Carlos Tevez knew precisely how to exploit. For his second of the evening he just happened to be the first of three unmarked blue shirts at the far post to meet Bellamy's free-kick However, unlike Bellamy, those who had travelled to Eastlands from London and Essex were not prepared to boo Tevez and the Argentinian is not inclined to celebrate the goals he scores against his former employers. When he first broke through in front of them he clasped his hands together and bowed. It was a gesture freighted with considerable class and dignity, something Emmanuel Adebayor might have considered when scoring against Arsenal last month.
Tevez was again made a gift of it by a defence that cracked on the flanks and in the centre with alarming regularity. Its origins lay in Shay Given's up-field punt, flicked on by Wayne Bridge and driven into the heart of the penalty area by Martin Petrov. Tevez, unmarked, had the simplest of his many opportunities last night.
As Eriksson watched, he might have reflected that, Petrov apart, little remains of the side he assembled rather successfully from a series of videos in the summer of 2007. But for a series of injuries, the Bulgarian might have been one of Manchester City's great signings. He proved his talent with the dead ball after Luis Jimenez had been penalised for fouling Nigel de Jong. Petrov crashed his free-kick through what proved the flimsiest of defensive walls to restore a lead that had been lost for seven minutes without anyone quite knowing why.
Again, the source was a free-kick, this time from Alessandro Diamanti that Joleon Lescott, meeting it on the run, could only clear as far as Radoslav Kovac, some 10 yards out. The Czech midfielder might have scored himself but it was Carlton Cole's boot that gave the ball its final, fatal touch.
Manchester City: (4-2-4) Given; Zabaleta, Touré, Lescott, Bridge; De Jong, Barry (Johnson, 90); Wright-Phillips (Santa Cruz, 80), Tevez, Bellamy, Petrov. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Garrido, Sylvinho, Weiss.
West Ham United: (4-1-4-1) Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Da Costa, Ilunga; Parker; Diamanti, Kovac (Stanislas, 71), Noble, Jimenez (Hines, 71); Cole. Substitutes not used: Kurucz (gk), Spector, Nouble, Payne, Ngala.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: West Ham Diamanti.
Man of the match: Tevez.
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