Petrov makes his point
Where Manchester City are concerned, there is a tendency to judge everyone by the exorbitance of the fee and the size of the column inches. By that thought process, Martin Petrov qualifies as something of a forgotten man. Comparatively cheap at £4.7 million and at the club for a couple of years, which qualifies as an age at City now, the Bulgarian has been obscured by glitzier recruits.
Ever since Robinho's arrival, Petrov's future could be questioned. He was signed by the regime they would rather forget and the past is another country; literally in City's case. Then it was Thailand, in the form of Thaksin Shinawatra, at the helm. Now it is the United Arab Emirates.
Yet the present can incorporate figures from another era. Petrov provided some of the inspiration behind the win over West Ham, creating one goal and scoring another. He is not the subtlest of wingers, possessing a direct style that pitches him in permanent confrontation with the opposing right back and a willingness to shoot from distance, but his forthright approach was shared by Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy. It worked for City tonight.
As Petrov started for the first time this season, he was being watched by the man who signed him, Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose efforts at Eastlands have been unfairly disparaged. Like Stephen Ireland's performances last season, it was proof Mark Hughes' inheritance was not entirely flawed. The scorer of the first goal of his reign may yet have a significant part to play in the remainder.
Tevez, a newer and bigger buy, opened the scoring on his way to a brace although the groundwork was done elsewhere. Gareth Barry flicked on Shay Given's clearance into the path of Petrov. The winger's low cross presented Tevez with a tap-in, which he celebrated almost apologetically against his old club.
"Good players, like he is, they are also gentlemen and he showed that," said Gianfranco Zola. "I think he has been fantastic." For Tevez, it proved a happier reunion with a former side than his trip to Old Trafford. He retains his popularity at West Ham and Hughes added: "He had a good relationship with the club and with the fans."
Tevez already has one with the City support but so does an older favourite. After Carlton Cole had levelled, Petrov's curling free kick found the far corner. One short pass to the Argentine that drew a fine save from Robert Green could have resulted in another assist while a ferocious volley could have brought a second goal. So, too, could a late shot on his less favoured right, illustrating that he is very much a one-footed player.
Petrov interested Tottenham towards the end of the transfer window. With Robinho, Ireland and Vincent Kompany among the absentees, City had reasons to be glad he has lingered in Manchester. They extend beyond an end product. Balance is a crucial element that the best teams possess. City's summer spending has brought them more but with Petrov mirroring the similarly sharp Shaun Wright-Phillips on the opposite flank, they had width in abundance.
"Martin Petrov made his first start and had a real positive influence on the game. That's what we need," said Hughes, who chose not to interpret the Bulgarian's celebration - pointing to the name on the back of his shirt - as a message to his manager.
He was happier to discuss an emphatic win. "I think we were excellent from start to finish, showed real purpose and won the game quite comfortably," he said.
In part, that was a consequence of the new-look strike partnership. "It's easy for top-quality players to gel quickly," Hughes added. Certainly Bellamy and Tevez suggested as much. The South American headed his second from Bellamy's free kick.
West Ham had equalised when Radoslav Kovac's drive was adroitly flicked in by Cole. Thereafter, Alessandro Diamanti posed a threat, albeit an unconventional one, but his manager was riled by the team's display.
"I am angry with myself, with the team, with everybody right now," Zola said. "I don't think anyone, including myself, is doing what he is capable of. The way we are training is fantastic, but we have to take that on the pitch. I blame myself first."
While West Ham had recriminations, City had happier considerations. Michael Johnson appeared in the 89th minute to make his first appearance for a year. Much as Hughes has overhauled City, with Petrov in form and Johnson on the pitch there were rare reminders of Eriksson's side.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Craig Bellamy - The goalscorers, Tevez and Petrov, are more obvious candidates but Bellamy produced another stellar display, dovetailing well with the Argentine and taking most of the set-pieces. He is relishing the stage City provide to display his talents.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: The battle for places in attack is well and truly underway. Emmanuel Adebayor is available again for next Monday's trip to Aston Villa but Tevez, scorer of a brace, and Bellamy, who was outstanding at Old Trafford, could both count themselves unfortunate if they were dropped. Roque Santa Cruz came on for the last ten minutes to make his City debut and spurned a wonderful opportunity to mark it with a goal.
WEST HAM VERDICT: Zola's side have now taken a solitary point from their last five games and lie 18th in the table. While the dreaded phrase "too good to go down" has been proved incorrect in West Ham's past, they don't resemble relegation strugglers. Indeed, despite Zola's disappointment, there was an enterprising element to some of their play. The attack, where Cole excelled, should be less of a worry than a defence that missed the injured Matthew Upson. They could have conceded more than the three goals.