The Premier League's only unbeaten show rolls on. Manchester City are yet to find anything like the rhythm that chewed up sides during the opening of last season, although a hunch is that sometime soon Roberto Mancini's team will teach an opponent a lesson.
Not here, though. With Manchester United's win over Arsenal and Chelsea's draw at Swansea, a 4-0 victory over West Ham would have placed City top for the first time this term. Yet by the close, Mancini would have killed for a scrappily fought 1-0, with this result meaning they stay third, two points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's team.
Mancini, who will be without Joleon Lescott and James Milner for Tuesday's must-win Champions League visit of Ajax, said: "We played well. But if we want to win, we've got to score and we missed four, five, six incredible chances. The guys played well and defended well. I'm happy for that performance but not the result."
Mancini set up his side in what, when the break arrived, had proved a fluid 4-2-1-3. This had Samir Nasri as the conductor behind an attacking trident of Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko. Sergio Agüero was on the bench alongside Pablo Zabaleta, a right-back who was returning from injury. Kolo Touré was chosen to fill the berth for a first league start since late August, as Lescott's back injury caused him to miss out. After Milner went down with an injured hamstring in the warmup, Gareth Barry also made the XI, playing in tandem with Yaya Touré in a midfield shield that was overrun at times during the opening period.
Noting City's weak spot along Kolo Touré's corridor, Sam Allardyce was spied early on waving at James Collins to pepper the auxiliary right-back with a high ball for Andy Carroll to feed off. West Ham, who just about shared the opening half, had the ball beyond Joe Hart first but this was ruled offside, perhaps unfairly – Mark Noble's dinked free-kick having been finished expertly by Kevin Nolan.
"You never know how a game is going to pan out when you score so early," Sam Allardyce said: "But we should have scored and it could have kicked Manchester City up the backside. We believe we scored a perfectly good goal. We want the officials to get the decisions correct."
City, as is the case so far this campaign, were fluid only in flashes. While at Arsenal, Nasri yearned to play through the middle, although the ambition was stymied by Cesc Fábregas's presence. Here, with David Silva injured, the onus was on the Frenchman to prompt the visitors and he impressed when doing so. There was a chipped pass to Tevez that West Ham managed to snuff out and, as the half neared its end, a clever ball to Balotelli from which the Italian attempted an acrobatic scissors kick that went wide.
City's best move of the half also involved Balotelli. Kolo Touré pinged a pass into Tevez's feet. The forward instantly hit Balotelli, who in turn banged his own first-time ball sweetly into Dzeko's path, which he failed to control. The disappointing Balotelli, who is yet to score in the league, was replaced by Agüero in the 69th minute, and Mancini said of his countryman: "A player like Balotelli when he had a chance like today, he should score. But I don't think he didn't want to [score]."
West Ham were coming off a 2-1 defeat at Wigan. After this visit of the champions, their next sequence reads: Newcastle United, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Of this draw, Allardyce said: "It gives us hope and confidence. We have a difficult fixture list coming up and this one is the icing on the cake, to get a point against the champions."
Any spoils had looked unlikely when City occupied home territory at the start of the second half. A Tevez corner that was dropped by Jussi Jaaskelainen was scrambled away, and when West Ham did attack, an agricultural boot of the ball at Carroll in the City area came to nothing when the on-loan Liverpool man was penalised for a foul.
"When the Premier League champions are unbeaten and you play them at home and get a draw, you've got to be happy. Their front four, who all got on at some point, were [worth] about £150m, so you're going to have to do some defending," Allardyce said.
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image: © Tom Cuppens