A resilient West Ham came away from the Etihad Stadium this evening with a lot of pride and the confidence of a very good defensive performance, undermined by the continued ability for top six sides to get favourable refereeing decisions in the Premier League.
It was a 1-0 away defeat that will go in the record books, but Manuel Pellegriniís side frustrated and contained Manchester City for the majority of the game, only to be undone as an extremely weak penalty was handed to the Champions in the second half.
West Ham made five changes, with Cresswell injured, Arnautovic taken ill and rests for Snodgrass, Noble and Zabaleta.
This gave opportunities for Andy Carroll up front, captaining the side, Pedro Obiang, Samir Nasri, Ryan Fredericks and, most notably, a debut for highly-rated academy product Ben Johnson, the young right-back given a chance at left-back against the Champions.
It was again a good chance to see Manuel Pellegriniís intent when playing against his old side; three attacking midfielders lining up behind the striker.
That line-up didnít produce a gung-ho first half, with West Ham even unable or unwilling to go toe-to-toe with Manchester City, a tactic that provided some fun at home, but also a lot of space and opportunity for City to attack West Ham.
This time, West Ham spent the first half defending, creating nothing, although the lack of movement up front from Carroll did limit any counter-attacking possibilities.
And the opening moments seemed to point at what we could expect for the rest of the game, with chances for De Bruyne, Mahrez and Silva in the first five minutes that all could easily have nestled into Fabianskiís net. How Silva missed from 4 yards out, the standard Man City move back and forth until guiding it across the face of goal. That Silva smacked it against the base of the post surprised everyone.
But whilst City created pressure and some half-chances, the tale of destruction didnít come. In fact, for the home side, the main story of the first half came to be how Riyad Mahrez was playing so poorly up against academy graduate Ben Johnson.
Johnson was left one-on-one with the Premier League winner on numerous occasions, but he was never exposed in the first half. Never once did he do anything nearly as wild as the challenge Fredericks made to hinder Sane that earned him a yellow card.
West Ham produced 45 minutes of strong rearguard action, digging in deep, holding a very strong defensive line and settling in after a shaky start, clearly not overwhelmed by their opponents.
It led to a rather dull half, with Manchester City devoid of ideas and looking unable to enforce their class on the game, even if the consistent pressure gave the feeling of an inevitable goal.
The sides went in at half-time with no goals and the away side the happier of the two, impressively disciplined after a difficult start.
Surprisingly, it was Pellegrini who acted to use his bench during the break, with Lanzini coming on to replace Nasri in a move that you can only imagine was the plan regardless of the score as both men come back from injury.
Yet it nearly proved a game-changer. The first chance of the first half was created by the little Argentinean.
First he combined with Anderson on the halfway line, then Lanzini and Antonio combine, the winger delaying before feeding a lovely reverse ball to Lanzini as he ran into the box. T
He danced around defenders, staying up when caught by a stray leg, carrying on to fire a perfect pass across the face of goal to Carroll. He slid to meet it, but his excellently controlled effort was stopped well by Ederson.
How ineffective City had been was made all the more evident as Guardiola was pressed into changes. Sterling replaced the ineffective Mahrez on 55 minutes, whilst a minute later Sane was replaced by Bernardo Silva, who immediately went across to Cityís right to face Johnson.
And it was from their right, and the jelly-legs of Bernardo Silva that the game changed.
Dancing into the box, Silva felt the presence of Anderson behind him. He flicked a leg out backwards towards the Brazilian and then dropped to the floor dramatically. For your normal, run-of-the-mill Premier League side: a coming together. For one of the Big Six: penalty.
Aguero slid the ball into the bottom corner, Fabianski having gone the wrong way, and Manchester City took a lead they had barely earned with an undeserved penalty after an hour.
West Ham were a little deflated, and City were encouraged. Johnson came off, with Zabaleta coming on to an ovation across the whole ground. Moments later, City beat Fabianski again.
Aguero fed Bernardo Silva into the box on the right. He cut it back to the six yard box, where it fell to Raheem Sterling. His shot was saved excellently by Fabianski, but the rebound dropped to Gundogan.
His shot beat the downed Fabianski, but couldnít beat the man on the line, with Ryan Fredericks saving a certain goal with a block.
As the clock ticked on, it was interesting to see where Pellegriniís approach would change. City were taking a hold of the game and beginning to make more openings, but the deficit was only one goal, one goal from a soft penalty. When, if at all, would he throw the dice to go for an equaliser?
His response was a little unexpected, with Hernandez, fresh from his controversial goal on Friday, remaining on the bench. It was Diangana on for Anderson with 15 minutes remaining.
It mattered little, the game petering out somewhat. City were forced into the corners, wasting time and protecting their slender lead, something no one would have predicted after 5 minutes of this game.
West Ham could take pride come the final whistle. They had been beaten, but as much by the referee as Manchester City. The defence was strong, the team was disciplined and organised, yet without bowing down to City and accepting they could offer little. Whilst Anderson, Antonio and Lanzini offered only fleeting glimpses of threat, it was good to see that the side wasnít chastened and bullied into cowardice.
Come the end, Carrollís sudden chance remained the only shot on target for the side, a horrendous header the only other shot produced by West Ham in a game where City made 500 more passes and had 76% of possession.
Things will look a little different at home to Newcastle at the weekend, but confidence should be taken from the performance, even if failure to win tonight means we are now mathematically unable to win the title.
Lukasz Fabianski (7) Made one very good save from Sterling, but everything else was relatively tame.
Ryan Fredericks (8) Looking like a Premier League player now the rest of the defence is settled too. 8 clearances, 2 interceptions, 2 tackles, 1 shot blocked.
Ben Johnson (7) Could you have more daunting a full Premier League debut? Yet he was only real beaten once, Sterlingís fresh legs and burst of pace getting beyond him, and he stood up to Mahrez. Mahrez was poor and subbed, Johnson should take a lot of pride in that.
Issa Diop (8) Strong presence, another game against nippy, skillful players where he looks great.
Angelo Ogbonna (9) One of his best games as a West Ham player. 6 interceptions, 4 clearances, 2 blocked shots - as close to imperious as heís ever been, especially in a back four. The General may have to wait.
Declan Rice (6) Not a glittering performance in the Rice repertoire, although one moment where he stepped forward, intercepted a pass then sprayed a ball wide to Anderson without a momentís hesitation was glorious. Forward passing is improving.
Pedro Obiang (7) Fought well, struggled when City really turned it on,.Tackled well in the middle.
Felipe Anderson (5) The penalty was soft (to put it mildly) but Anderson drifted out of the game anyway.
Samir Nasri (5) A good 45 minutes to get into his legs for a comeback, but no impact on the game and made only 9 passes.
Michail Antonio (6) Stuck to his task, worked hard, one little moment to combine with Lanzini, but otherwise a hard game.
Andy Carroll (5) Not really ever going to be a Carroll type of game. Did well to get good contact on a bouncing and powerful cross by Lanzini which tested Ederson, but otherwise peripheral at best. Just over 50% pass success rate.
Manuel Lanzini (6) (Replaced Nasri) Looked the only real threat going forward, another promising performance and good that he got 45 minutes. Could see him close to starting at the weekend. Created the only chance.
Pablo Zabaleta (6) (Replaced Johnson) Did nothing wrong, had very little else to do, great ovation for him across the ground.
Grady Diangana (6) (Replaced Arnautovic) Did fine in his limited time, still keeps the ball very well.
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo (0) Did not play.
Mark Noble (0) Did not play.
West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ryan Fredericks, Ben Johnson, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Pedro Obiang, Felipe Anderson, Samir Nasri, Michail Antonio, Andy Carroll.
Substitutes: Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Zabaleta, Grady Diangana, Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Mark Noble.
Booked: Ryan Fredericks Michail Antonio
Manchester City: Ederson, Danilo, Kompany, Otamendi, Zinchenko, Gundogan, D. Silva, de Bruyne, Mahrez (Sterling 55), Sane (B. Silva 57), Aguero (Foden 85).
Subs not used: Muric, Walker, Mendy, Sandler.
Goals: Aguero (pen 59)
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Man of the Match: Angelo Ogbonna