Manchester City fans held aloft a banner declaring “Oops we did it again” to celebrate their second title in three years. They required only a point against West Ham United but deservedly won, showing their individual excellence and team-work that has underpinned their title campaign.
Samir Nasri scored the first just before the break, Vincent Kompany struck the second just after and the Etihad was in party mood. The fans streamed onto the pitch at the end, celebrating with the players, taking selfies, pleading for souvenirs of shirts. But they had the most important memento of their team’s excellence: the Premier League trophy, a trophy won with style, testament to their quietly inspiring manager.
Manuel Pellegrini talked of City’s “flair”, of football being “an entertainment business”. The Chilean, who was brought in to make City more watchable, wanted to win, not just draw. He wanted to finish the season in style, to give those waving inflatables and banners even more joy. This was the manager behind such results as the 7-0 thrashing of Norwich, 6-0 and 5-1 thumpings of Spurs, and a 6-3 win over Arsenal.
He sought the desired result here with his usual commitment to attack, unleashing all his in-form talents in an awesome foursome. Nasri, City’s first-half goalscorer, was immediately lively, running at West Ham’s left-back, George McCartney. David Silva was on the left, cutting in with his usual elegance, looking for Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero. Pellegrini does not know how to park the bus; he wants to accelerate and any parking involves three-point turns.
It is Pellegrini’s passion for creative, flowing football that has so endeared him to City fans, who waved banners praising “This Charming Man” and adding “Muchas Gracias Manuel”. There is a quiet nobility to Pellegrini, who waited in the tunnel at Anfield and shook the hands of every Liverpool player after City’s defeat there last month. For all their frustration, Liverpool fans will know they have been beaten by a man of dignity.
He got an early touch here. There was a desire to get on with the game, to wrap up the title, and Pellegrini himself quickly drove a loose ball back into play when it strayed into the dug-out. “Together” read the mosaic at the Etihad, the fans adding their exhortation of “we’ll fight to the end”. In truth, they didn’t need to fight too hard.
They still beseeched their players to get the early, settling goal. They screamed when Javi Garcia dawdled as Mohamed Diame closed in from behind. They appealed loudly for penalties when Mark Noble accidentally handled and Zabaleta fell under a challenge from Diame. They sighed when Silva volleyed over.
West Ham had Adrian, one of the keepers of the season, the recipient of club awards last week for his excellence. He reacted superbly to tip over Aleksandar Kolarov’s 30-yarder. Dzeko fired over. West Ham were not compliant guests at the City party; Kevin Nolan, a Toxteth-born Liverpool fan, was booked for going studs-up on Joe Hart. This was far from a smooth progression to the title. News of Martin Skrtel’s own goal at Anfield eased nerves here but they still wanted to find a way through against West Ham.
City have shown their resilience this season, the character in their dressing-room in recovering from embarrassment at Cardiff City, from defeat at Aston Villa, and that poor start to February when they lost to Chelsea and drew with Norwich. Still they stayed calm. Even when faltering in that game at Liverpool and then dropping two points to Sunderland at home last month, City still believed. Pellegrini kept them focused on the prize.
The fans’ flags fluttered in the breeze here, signaling support from Middleton and Dane Bank, Harrogate and Edinburgh, even Koh Samui and Sierra Leone. They were together, willing the players to victory. City had got this far, revealing time after time their stomach for the fight. Six minutes from the break they had the goal they craved and deserved.
Dzeko began the move 30 yards out, shaping to go left before laying the ball off to Garcia, who swiftly ferried it on to Yaya Toure. As the season has closed, Toure has again proved the man for the big occasion, either creating or scoring. He took possession of the ball here and found Nasri, who looked for some space before returning the ball to Toure.
As West Ham players moved towards Toure, the tall Ivorian simply stroked it back to Nasri, who was now 25 yards out and unmarked. The Frenchman took a couple of touches, his journey towards goal assisted when Kevin Nolan stood off. Nasri’s right foot did the damage, sending the ball flying past Adrian, who could have done better but was ultimately beaten by the speed of the strike. Pellegrini lifted his arms in the air in celebration. Whatever the reasons behind Nasri’s omission from the French squad, a player of his talent will surely be missed.
City almost added a second before half-time when Silva’s shot a post but they did double their advantage five minutes after the interval. Nasri curled in the corner, Dzeko’s flick hit Nolan and carried on to Kompany, who finished from six yards.
A mass Poznan now broke out; even with the news of Liverpool equalising and then taking the lead at Anfield, City fans knew that West Ham needed three. Their best goal threats were removed. Nolan made light of some stick about his Merseyside connections as he took his place on the bench. Carroll soon followed. “Stand up for the champions,” chanted the City fans and some West Ham supporters applauded.
There was still time for an ugly incident. Aguero nastily felled Noble, who responded angrily, and both were booked. It was soon forgotten as the final whistle came and the pitch disappeared under a blue sea of City fans.