Alex Song, Dimitri Payet excel as West Ham United hold Manchester City
Sergio Aguero was Manchester City's saviour as he scored twice in a 2-2 draw to earn his side a point in a sparkling evening game at Upton Park.
The Hammers led twice, both with well-taken goals by Enner Valencia. The first goal came after only 53 seconds, and although the visitors were to level from the spot eight minutes later, the early strike set a tempo for the game that barely let up for the rest of the match.
Although Slaven Bilic may feel slightly disappointed with a draw, he will be heartened by the performance of his team. With Alex Song and Dimitri Payer both in wonderful form, the football from both sides was of the highest order. The Hammers matched their opponents with slick passing and clever football, and City keeper Joe Hart had to produce a world-class save to keep out a Payet free kick.
At the other end, Adrian had to rely on his post rather than his hands on two occasions but, although the Hammers' defence performed admirably against City's star performers, it was hard to deny Aguero. The Argentine has been in superb form lately and has a good record against the Hammers, and few would deny City had earned their point when Aguero poked home from 10 yards in the 81st minute.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Adrian, 7 -- Surprisingly had few direct saves to make, and although the woodwork came to his rescue on two occasions, the Spaniard commanded his area well.
DF Carl Jenkinson, 2 -- Fouling Aguero to give away the ninth minute penalty which allowed City to equalise West Ham's early opener, Jenkinson then added injury to his error. In giving away the spot kick, the Arsenal loanee damaged his leg and was forced to limp off minutes later.
Even though the full-back couldn't make amends, Jenkinson's injury allowed the Upton Park crowd an early sight of new signing Sam Byram.
DF James Collins, 7 -- Didn't miss a header and didn't shirk a tackle all game.
DF Winston Reid, 7 -- A welcome return to the heart of the defence, Reid's speed was vital in coping with City's attacks. Performed solidly but could do little with Aguero in this form.
DF Aaron Cresswell, 7 -- Able to get forward with Michail Antonio covering his flank, Cresswell put in another attractive performance.
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MF Cheikhou Kouyate, 7 -- Created the Hammers opener with a driving run and hit the crossbar with the last kick of the game. A solid outing.
MF Alex Song, 9 -- The sponsor's Man of the Match, Song had his best game for the Hammers in a long time. Was involved constantly, winning tackles, shrugging off opponents and passing superbly. A fine display.
MF Mark Noble, 7 -- Linked up well with Song and Kouyate and battled strongly all game.
MF Michail Antonio, 7 -- Happy to fall back and defend as well as attack at speed, Antonio's form has improved the left side of West Ham's team immensely.
MF Dimitri Payet, 9 -- Another sublime performance full of invention and breath-taking football; the superlatives are starting to run out.
FW Enner Valencia, 8 -- The type of display to warn the hearts of Hammers fans; on a damp, chilly January evening on a muddy pitch Valencia played as if he'd lived in the East End all his life. Two well-taken goals were just part of an excellent evening's work.
DF Sam Byram, 7 -- Many neutral fans wondered why Byram snubbed Everton for West Ham after Slaven Bilic made it clear the new £3.7 million signing from Leeds would only be a squad player this season. With relatives who are Hammers fans though, Byram must know of the club's injury curse and probably realised his chance would come sooner rather than later.
As it was, this was an assured debut for the 22-year-old as he replaced Jenkinson after only 12 minutes. Didn't look out of his depth defensively and put in some superb crosses too.
MF Victor Moses, 5 -- Played 25 minutes as substitute for Antonio, but the team then lost impetus on the left side leaving Moses exposed.
FW Nikica Jelavic, N/R -- Came on in the 87th minute for Valencia but got involved and won a few headers.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is the author of a regular column at WestHamOnline.net and the East London Guardian.