West Ham United 2 Manchester City 2
Sunday, 15th May 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
And just like that, the last local hero of the Boleyn said his goodbyes to the West Ham faithful, signing off at home as his side drew 2-2 in a scintillating match with title hopefuls Manchester City. Two first-half goals from Jarrod Bowen were cancelled out in the second half, with Jack Grealish scoring before Coufal flicked a free-kick into his own goal.With twists and turns, a bit of needle, a raucous home crowd and four goals, it felt a fitting way for the home fans of West Ham to say goodbye to their captain. A West Ham boy, Canning Town lad, the Cockney Pirlo; whatever you call him, cherish it because there may never be another like him.
And what a way to go out, the point securing another season of European football for West Ham after Wolves failed to beat Norwich. It's the Conference League for now, but a win next weekend and anything other than a victory for Manchester United and it could yet still be another go at the Europa League.
The two goals also meant West Ham have scored in every home game this season in the league, for the first time in 95 years, a sign of the entertainment and the excellence that this side has consistently offered up this year, and built from a fantastic year prior, too. And just think, some people said this West Ham side could only achieve things WITHOUT their fans in the stadium. Some of them even claim to support the club.
It was right and proper that the emotions around this game were not left to fizzle out because of the actual football, and David Moyes's men made absolutely sure Mark Noble wouldn't leave his last home game on a sour note.
The crowd were in loud voice throughout, but never louder than their moments to celebrate Nobes. Before the game, during the game, and especially after the game, a hero was greeted with standing ovations, songs and genuine affection. In return, they felt much the same come back from a man who truly is West Ham through and through.
As for the game itself, well, Manchester City must have known there's nothing more fun on a Premier League afternoon than spoiling the party. A win for Guardiola's side would have been them six points clear of title rivals Liverpool, all but guaranteeing that they would retain the title. Liverpool have a game in hand and two games to play, but with a mighty gap in goal difference and Manchester City at home to Aston Villa on the final day.
But West Ham have spoiled parties in Manchester before, for no better reason than the pure enjoyment of it.
Any hopes the travelling City fans had that this West Ham team would lack motivation were surely cast aside as they heard the noise in the stadium before the game. West Ham fans had come to celebrate their hero, and this team was going to honour their captain.
The Hammers started well, and had the first big chance of the game inside five minutes after Fornals found Dawson's head after a short corner. The centre back could have done better, however hard the chance was.
It was a brief sojourn from what would become the pattern for the majority of the match. This City side dominate possession, but West Ham have not lost their resilient roots. The success this side has found the last few seasons was built on a strong defence, and they can still sit deep and soak it up if they need to.
The probed and they pondered, patient and precise, but given very little encouragement from the West Ham rearguard action. The only real other moment of note inside 20 minutes was a great challenge by Laporte on the assistant referee, the perfect accompaniment to an end-of-season game. If only referee Anthony Taylor hadn't chosen to get revenge on the Manchester City defender by allowing them all to kick shades out of Michail Antonio all game. It is worth assuming at all points of this match report that nearly every notable incident was accompanied at some point by Taylor allowing Fernandinho the freedom to foul Antonio at any point.
City's first opening was from Rodri, created by a turn of pace from Cancelo and a pass from Jesus that left Rodri space to smash a shot at goal. The block took it away from Fabianski, and for a second lingered in the air as if it were about to fly into the goal, but it was enough on the block to just guide it wide.
If that felt like a warning shot, it was soon forgotten. Pep Guardiola had highlighted West Ham's ability to transition from defence to attack as just one of the weapons this side has, and one of football's smartest brains was right again.
A long ball forward was met by Fernandino, but headed down and into space. Whatever the story before it, the reaction from Fornals was ridiculous. With the ball bouncing behind him, the Spaniard volleyed a first time pass through the defence and onto the run of Bowen from the right. How he saw it was special, how he executed it was world class.
Free of defenders, the Bowen took it on and into the area, went around Ederson and managed to squeeze his shot back across goal and into the far corner with his left foot to score once again this season and give West Ham a 1-0 lead just inside 25 minutes. The angle was so tight, and Ederson is one of the absolute best, yet Bowen made it look simple. Playing with the confidence of a man who has been nominated for the Premier League Player of the Season award, he never looked in any doubt that he was scoring.
He was to score again before half-time, although some may well argue the best thing he did all half was absolutely wipe Grealish out to halt a counter-attack. Sometimes it's the little things that get you through.
City were roused by the goal, but not as obviously as you would expect. They kept trying to find the gap, trying to work out the angles to pass through the West Ham defence, but their best moments came from players driving towards goal with the ball at their feet. Two Zinchenko openings could have come to much more, but for one fantastic Zouma block and another poor finish. There was very little panic about a defence pinned back into their own area. Other teams might be uncomfortable with it, but you can't line up with Craig Dawson at the back and fear some last-ditch defending.
As half-time approached, the Manchester City fans were boosted by a free-kick just outside the box for Kevin De Bruyne to test the goalkeeper with. It wouldn't have been the first time West Ham had conceded on the stroke of half time, but as his freekick nestled safely into the arms of Fabianski, the home side went and did something very unexpected; they scored again.
This time it was a long clearance from Fabianski headed on by Soucek to Antonio. The striker, bruised and battered at this point, used his strength to get control of the ball, and then that unexpected subtle bit of guile that is often forgotten in his game to lift it softly over the defence and perfectly into the path of Bowen once more.
If rounding Ederson showed confidence, the way he took this one was a different level of assured. Rather than rushing, rather than pushing it closer to goal just so as to keep it away from the defenders, Bowen slowed it down as he got to the edge of the box and set himself to smash low, through Fernandinho's legs, and into the bottom corner of the goal to give West Ham a 2-0 lead going into half-time.
But it wouldn't really be West Ham if there wasn't drama to follow.
It was only four minutes into the second half that City found their first goal. A cleared corner came out deep to Zinchenko, who lofted a high ball into the box. Soucek won his header, but headed it right to Grealish. His reaction was sublime, meeting the clearance on the volley and smashing it between Dawson's legs before it popped up and moved away from Fabianski too fast for the goalkeeper to stop it. Replays showed a nick off Dawson's leg did enough to force the spitting ricochet off the turf that left the goalkeeper beaten.
Whether the goal was the spark they needed, or whether Guardiola's changes at half time made the difference, the away side were now flying. They were playing wider, forcing the West Ham defence to stretch across much more after a narrow first half, hoping to free up more spaces between players. As they pried and probed now, they did so with more tempo and more threat. To their credit, the West Ham players stood up to the challenge and were diligent, nipping back at players who beat them once and making every attacking touch a difficult one.
And it was the effort levels throughout the team that nearly got West Ham a third goal. A clipped pass forward was intercepted, but as Rice pressed the defender, his pass back to Ederson was short and perfectly into the path of Antonio. The forward defends from the front brilliantly, more than he is given credit for, and his persistence in doing so nearly paid off this time.
Ederson was caught in no-man's land, and Antonio went one-on-one with him right on the edge of the Manchester City area. He tried to chip the Brazilian, and the height and trajectory were good, but the direction wasn't. It drifted wide, but raised the crowd once more. He could have done better, he probably could have rounded the goalkeeper or just hit a normal shot. He didn't.
Having started with the goal and heightened intensity, City were fading as they again failed to find space to attack in and around the West Ham area. With just over 20 minutes to go, the only evidence they would score is that this City side generally do. They had created little to suggest it would happen today, but good teams find a way.
And sometimes they find a lot of luck, too. An innocuous freekick on the edge of the area was floated into a dangerous area by Mahrez, but with no City player attacking it. Unfortunately for Vladimir Coufal, he didn't know what was behind him and felt compelled to react to what he saw as a dangerous cross. The right back threw his head at the ball, but all he could do was guide it low into the far corner and the back of the net. With 70 minutes on the clock, it was 2-2.
A winner seemed inevitable now, such are how things go in this league and with these dominant sides. With the champions piling on the pressure, there was more than sentiment that made Mark Noble's entrance the right call from David Moyes.
Of course, it was the right call regardless, as many would feel they would rather have seen Mark play one last time than any other change the manager could have made.
But it also sent a message to the players and the fans alike. It was not time to see heads drop, the crowd turn, hope to give way to dreaded expectation. As the captain replaced Manuel Lanzini, the crowd stood once more and cheered him on. It brought energy to the stands, which brought energy to the players. And surely they were lifted by his appearance, one last time, giving them just one extra reason to fight for the points out there.
It bears repeating again that Manchester City were not creating chances. They failed to in the first half, they failed to after their first goal and they failed to go up a gear after the equaliser, too. Had luck been with West Ham, both of their goals could easily have flown away from goal.
There was to be one last twist, though. Gabriel Jesus picked the ball up outside the box and drove down the left. As he got closer to the byline, he looked to hit a cross or shot across goal, and as he went to do so, Dawson challenged him. All he took was the man, and whilst the abysmal Taylor strived to get even this basic decision wrong, VAR was at hand to change his mind. A quick look on the screen was enough to convince him - rightly, it must be added - that this was a penalty. With five minutes of the game to go, up stepped Riyad Mahrez.
He hit it hard to Fabianski's left, but not hard enough or far enough in the corner. Fabianski had enough spring left in those legs to fly after it and palm the ball away, much to the delight of a packed London Stadium. It wasn't a bad penalty, but it was a very good save.
Four minutes were added on, but neither side had much left to give. The preamble ended 2-2, with the main event Mark Noble send off still to come.
It was emotional, it was fitting and it was in front of a packed crowd. It looked like no West Ham fans had left at all.
One game to go, European football guaranteed and a chance to finish above Manchester United left to play for. And in the end, it's all noise compared to saying goodbye to a legend. Thank you, Mark Noble, for being the best representative us armchairs critics could have. You did it the way we all dreamed we would, as a West Ham man until the end.
David Moyes: 8/10
Set us up right, introduced Noble at the right time. Job done, another fantastic season for the manager.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
When called upon, a big save protected the point. And a vital point it could be.
The own goal was very unfortunate, an understandable error and one where communication is more of a worry than the decision itself. Did well on Grealish, but was beaten a few times.
To come away from a game against City, and against a flank of Mahrez and Cancelo, without really being noticed means he must have been efficient and defended well.
Of the pair, Zouma made the bigger blocks and the more crucial interceptions.
A decent and solid performance until the last. That's a sloppy penalty to give away.
You are not expecting him to dominate against that midfield, there is a ludicrous amount of talent on display there, but he was effective, smart and played well.
Could have kept the ball better, but was crucial in protecting the defence. And his aerial prowess was used a lot from goal kicks, and using him like that did lead to a goal.
The first-time pass for the first goal is outrageous, both in vision and execution. He sees a picture none of our other players do. And then matches it with work rate, enthusiasm, drive and desire to win.
An outstanding performance in front of goal and as an attacking threat, although slightly tempered by poor passing. He can drift out of games, but arguably that works in his favour on counters.
Four interceptions, the most of any West Ham player, and 100% passing accuracy. In a game against City, that kind of control is very useful.
Given a thankless task, and his brilliance at being in that fight, using his body and then setting up others was on show. Bowen gets the headlines, but Antonio's work sets the platform. Fantastic pass for the second goal.
(Replaced Lanzini, 76) It's Mark Noble's last home game as a West Ham player, yes he's getting a 10.
(Replaced Fornals, 90) Not on long enough to make an impression.
(Replaced Antonio, 90) Not on long enough to make an impression. After a few difficult seasons, it was nice for him to get a warm send off. He has proven these pages wrong with excellent cameos as the season wore on.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Jarrod Bowen 24 Jarrod Bowen 45 .
Booked: Jarrod Bowen 32 Vladimir Coufal 56 Lukasz Fabianski 60 .
Sent off: None.
Manchester City: Ederson, Joao Cancelo, Laporte, Fernandinho, Zinchenko, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Grealish, Gabriel Jesus.
Subs not used: Steffen, Ake, Egan-Riley, Mbete, Gundogan, Lavia, Sterling, Foden, Palmer.
Goals: Grealish (49, Coufal (og 69).
Booked: Gabriel Jesus (90+4).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.