Sunday, January 24

Enner Valencia double almost does it for Hammers in City classic

West Ham 2 Manchester City 2

In Ken’s Café Matt has forgotten his unlucky Dukla Prague away shirt, while Nigel and CQ have forgotten CQ’s not-very lucky aniseed balls. Michael the Whovian has got his big breakfast in early, but is not impressed with Steven Moffat’s successor as Doctor Who showrunner. We discuss the death of David Bowie and wonder if David ever liked football. He went to a game once apparently, but was put off by too many programme ch-ch-changes.

I’m with my daughter, 17-year-old Lola, who becomes quite tearful thinking this might be the last time she visits Upton Park and has egg chips and beans with two slices and a cup of tea in Ken’s. Today we’re in borrowed seats in the West Stand, provided through the efforts of West Ham Till I Die.

On the way to our new seats we bump into my old school mate Steve, up from Cornwall for the match — though I’m not sure if he’s in a box with Russell Brand and Noel Gallagher, he could just be with Alison and Scott.

ENNER IS REALLY HERE 
It’s the usual slow start. Kouyate leaves Toure looking as mobile as the Belly Busters burger stall on Green Street as he speeds past him on the left and crosses into the box. Valencia is lurking on the edge of the box and prods home under Hart. After a mere 53 seconds. “It’s not always like this!” I tell me disbelieving daughter. Upton Park bounces to our new theme song of “We’ve got Payet!”

The thought occurs that we might have just made City angry. They play some crisp, fluid stuff going forward and Aguero produces a brilliant lob that bounces off Adrian’s post, before Reid chests it back to the grateful custodian. After seven minutes Aguero breaks on the left and Jenkinson takes player and ball for a softish looking penalty. Aguero duly dispatches and the City fans sing, “We’re not really here!” Some start to the game.

Instead of crumbling the Hammers come right back into it. Payet looks better than De Bruyne, Toure and Silva and all City’s superstars. In our borrowed West Stand seats we have a great view of the managers. City’s Pellegrini stands on the touchline with the air of a kindly uncle watching the young folk dancing at a wedding, while Slaven Bilic is much more animated. He stands right on the line, pumping his fists, waving his arms and sitting on his haunches. In his black suit and tie he looks rather like a City trader who’s just seen all his Chinese shares shorted and is complaining about it to the fourth official.

Jenkinson only lasts another couple of minutes before departing with what looks like a muscular injury. On comes young Sam Byram to replace him. “Dad, he looks about 12!” protests Lola. Sam’s first touch is to instantly control a strange high ball from Payet and play it 60 yards back to the Reunion man. Byram looks instantly at home against City and we might have a player. He’s not averse to clattering the odd winger either and picks up a yellow card later on.

HART BREAKER 
Kouyate gets fouled and requires treatment, which the ref completely ignores, earning a chorus of “You’re not fit to referee!” After half an hour Payet plays Antonio through with a brilliant shimmy and pass. Demichelis is lucky to be only booked as he brings down the flying Shakespearian character on the edge of the box. Antonio would surely have got a shot in. From the resulting free kick, Hart produces a brilliant one-handed save to stop Payet’s effort going in the top corner.

We go in level and at half-time we have a good view of Jack Collison being interviewed on the pitch. Matt texts to say the ref is having a shocker.

Delph shoots against the outside of the post for City after the restart, just after Mr Moon has left the stadium. Strange he should scarper, as it's a cracking game. The busy Antonio heads wide of the left post after a West Ham corner. Ten minutes into second half Antonio takes a long throw, Otamendi is caught looking for planetary alignments in the night sky and Valencia nips behind him to prod past Hart. That’s four in three games for Enner now.

It looks like being another famous victory. Noble has an immense game and is all over the pitch. Song is inspired, breaking up numerous attacks on the edge of WHU’s box, while Kouyate is having a fine game too.

LATE SERGIO 
But City bring on £50m Raheem Sterling and Iheanaco and always look dangerous. When Victor Moses comes on for Antonio we briefly have Moses and Jesus on the same pitch, enough to please the Vicar’s Son in the East Stand. City equalise when Iheanacho makes a run into West Ham’s box, the ball inadvertently rebounds off Creswell and the City striker shows his class to balance himself and chip over Adrian.

It’s end to end for the final ten minutes, but we can be proud of the way West Ham have matched the Champions. In added time Aguero puts a chance straight at Adrian. With seconds to go, Moses is brought down by Fernando. From the free kick Kouyate heads against the top of the bar with the last action of the match.

What a game. It feels like one of those classic draws from 1970s where the crowd have gone home thoroughly entertained and the fact we haven’t won doesn’t matter too much. There’s a hubbub of drained excitement and Lola and myself trek through a never-ending alleyway to Plaistow. A good day to be a Hammers fan and another sign we’ve got a team here.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 5 (Byram 8), Reid 7 Collins 7 Cresswell 7; Antonio 7 (Moses 6), Payet 9, Noble 8, Song 8, Kouyate 8; Valencia 8 (Jelavic 6).