Bizarre night at the Boleyn as City run riot

Posted by Peter Thorne

On a surreal evening of football, any hopes West Ham had of easing the pain of the first leg of the Capital One Cup were crushed within two minutes at the Boleyn ground, as Manchester City opened the scoring, eventually running out 3-0 winners -- 9-0 on aggregate -- and leaving the Hammers bruised and bemused.

There were a little more than 14,000 fans at Upton Park on a bitterly cold night -- many of those City fans who were at least assured of a rousing end to this semifinal tie -- and those hardy West Ham souls who bothered to make the journey were treated to a bizarre turn of events that will, sadly for most, probably linger long in the memory.

• Report: West Ham 0-3 Man City

I've seen a lot of football over the years and witnessed many different scenarios, but the sight of stands and rows of empty seats with just a sprinkling of home support for a semifinal is perhaps the most odd. The atmosphere was resigned, tinged with gallows humour and that odd stoic attitude that seems to pervade the east end -- particularly if you follow the local football team -- but the events on the pitch were odder.

Once Alvaro Negredo opened the scoring early for Manchester City, heading in unmarked from a Marcos Lopes cross that was itself an invitation, the whole game became a damage-limitation exercise for West Ham. City, of course, were happy to take their chances when they came -- and they came frequently -- so whole swaths of the match were played out like some exhibition from another planet.

City had patches of scintillating football where they cut through West Ham like knife through butter interspersed with periods where they were happy to let the play drift, confident that they would get an opportunity to swagger through the Hammers' brittle defence soon enough. West Ham, on the other hand, played like a team that had no idea of who they were or what they were doing, periodically trying to pull just a goal back to give themselves some respite, others just punting aimlessly away while watching their opponents do things on the ball that most of them can only dream of.

At one stage, after Lopes and Sergio Aguero had left half the West Ham team sitting on their collective backsides, before the diminutive Argentine coolly slotted home after 23 minutes, the home side found themselves with the ball but under no pressure at all in their own half. City merely stood back to watch, happy to just patrol their own area for several minutes -- I suspect some were making phone calls home or grabbing a sneaky bite to eat -- while the ball eased back and forth between claret and blue shirts without ever going forward. "They can't get the ball off us!" one wag shouted as no City shirt encroached within 10 yards of a Hammers player.

Given Sam Allardyce's team's parlous state of mind, this opportunity to build some confidence with some unopposed passing might have been seen as an opportunity. But such is the fragile confidence of the team because, after what seemed like minutes of non-aggressive keep ball, someone panicked and lofted the ball up in expected fashion for Andy Carroll or Mo Diame to gallop after. City defenders gleefully swallowed the ball up and weaved patterns through the West Ham rear-guard again. It was a dispiriting sight.

Time and time again, West Ham's players were caught in possession or simply gave the ball away when in no particular danger. Manchester City are a team that will hurt most other sides anyway, and simply giving them the ball to play with is footballing suicide.

All this is bad enough, but this non-competition only highlighted again how luck deserts those who are struggling -- and who need it the most. Any bobble or ricochet, any 50/50 ball that broke, all found their way to City players. Ravel Morrison had a couple of good shouts for a penalty that would have seen a packed Upton Park roaring, and it wouldn't be a West Ham game without a couple of worrying injuries. Joe Cole went off just after halftime while Diame was stretchered off after several minutes’ attention by the medics in the 89th minute.

Amusingly, despite the fact there had been a plethora of substitutions and Diame’s injury had taken a full three or four minutes, referee Chris Foy added on only one minute at the end of the game. It seemed even he'd had enough and, as Negredo had again bamboozled three Hammers players to put his team three up in just under the hour, the home fans didn't even complain. It meant the aggregate score at least didn't get to double figures.

There were several other memorable instances; the man who'd had rather too many soft drinks at the Martin Peters bar, standing in the gangway to the Bobby Moore Upper trying to engage the quiet fans by shouting at them and being told by the stewards that if he didn't sit down they would have to ask him to leave. "You're going to throw me out?" he roared. "Throw me out? Please! You'd be doing me a favour!"

My own personal legion d'honneur though goes to the man in Row P of the same stand who kept up a constant barrage of encouragement and abuse in equal measure for the whole of the 90 minutes. Barely pausing for breath, no one was safe, and in the sparse crowd, every word uttered could be heard clearly. It was a tremendous effort that the team and the coaching staff didn't really merit. Sir, I doff my titfer to you.

So, another Wembley dream over and all that remains is a tough relegation battle. Next up, Chelsea away. It just gets better and better, doesn't it?


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