There was drama galore at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon, as Manchester City drew 2-2 with West Ham United. Their title hopes are still very much alive, and the Cityzens still occupy the box seat. But with Liverpool now able to go within a point before City play again, the final day could well be a nail-biter. West Ham meanwhile strengthen their own claim for European football next season, and barring some mathematical oddities they should play in a continental competition next term.
Mark Noble was the main talking point before kick-off. The veteran midfielder was making his last appearance at the London Stadium in his 18th and final season at the club. The incredible ovation he received brought the 35-year-old to tears, a beautiful moment of recognition for a club legend.
West Ham would give their fans even more to talk about after shocking City in the first half. Craig Dawson set the tempo, going close with an early header. City soon took charge though, with the Hammers sitting back in an organised low block.
On another day, Pep Guardiola’s men might have had a penalty when Kurt Zouma appeared to kick Gabriel Jesus. Unlike when the defender moronically turned his aggression onto his pet cat, Zouma escaped punishment.
Despite City dominating territory and possession, they could not create much in the way of clear-cut chances. Rodri had a shot deflected over by Dawson, while a long-range strike from Fernandinho ended up in the stand.
City’s uncharacteristic lack of final-third quality was punished with aplomb by David Moyes’ men. Pablo Fornals looped a smart ball over the top to Jarrod Bowen, who did brilliantly to take it round Ederson and slot home. The goal arrived against the run of play, but galvanised the Hammers and their noisy travelling support.
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The goal worked so well that West Ham did it again, this time with Michail Antonio in the role of provider. The striker dinked an inch-perfect pass over the top and once again Bowen raced in to finish. It was a one-two punch nobody expected, and City were on the ropes going into half-time.
They soon roared back like Ali rope-a-doping Foreman in Zaire. Three minutes into the second half, Rodri headed a looping cross into the path of Jack Grealish. The ex-Villa star hammered home the volley, making a vastly important contribution at a time when many had questioned his place in this City team.
The England winger nearly helped City to level. His pull-back to Bernardo Silva saw the Portuguese midfielder fire towards goal, but his shot was blocked.
West Ham were still very much a presence in this game though. Bowen raced in to capitalise on an Ederson error and hit the side-netting, while a bungled pass-back saw Antonio try to lob the stopper. What had looked like being a rout in the early going had taken on a pleasingly end-to-end tempo.
But City were determined, and a Riyad Mahrez free kick gave them the foothold they needed. The whipped delivery attracted Vladimir Coufal, who agonisingly sent the ball into his own net. It was a cruel way to watch his side’s lead evaporate. The Etihad was rocking by this point, with the fans of the champions anticipating a winner.
Even at 2-2, the Hammers had fight left. Bowen had his attempt to seal a hat-trick blocked. At this point, with 15 minutes left, Mark Noble was brought on in place of Manuel Lanzini. Sentiment was perhaps a factor, but in truth someone of his measured, classy abilities was perhaps just what the doctor ordered when facing a rampant City.
What the doctor did not order was Dawson’s clumsy lunge on Gabriel Jesus, which saw a penalty given after a VAR review. Riyad Mahrez stepped up with City’s title aspirations resting on his shoulders. Lukasz Fabianski had something to say about those aspirations, beating away the ex-Leicester man’s attempt.
There was to be no fairytale finish. No 95th minute Noble screamer to achieve viral omnipresence for the rest of time. No heroic late winner from City to put their stamp on the title race. But what we got was an utterly thrilling draw in a game many expected to be a City procession. The champions now sit four points above Liverpool in the tite race, but the Reds have two games to play to City’s one. Liverpool can go within a point if they beat Southampton on Tuesday, meaning the destination of the title will not be decided until the final day. It looks like we are in for a thrilling finish.