By Mandeep Sanghera
Manchester City’s first game since surrendering the Premier League title to Manchester United ended with a hard-fought win over West Ham.
Sergio Aguero slotted in a low Samir Nasri cross to put the hosts ahead.
City failed to take their chances as Carlos Tevez blazed a shot high and Nasri mistimed a shot from eight yards.
Yaya Toure’s strike into the top corner sealed City’s win, although Andy Carroll’s shot squirmed past Joe Hart for a late Hammers consolation goal.
City’s 3-1 loss against Tottenham last Sunday allowed rivals Manchester United to grab back the title with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday and there was a subdued atmosphere at the Etihad.
However, with the FA Cup final against Wigan on 11 May, the hosts produced an impressive performance, which only lacked more of a cutting edge as they tightened their grip on second place.
West Ham, whose top-flight safety is all-but guaranteed, had their five-match unbeaten run ended by the defeat and, although they improved after the break, they struggled to create chances.
The match soon fell into the pattern of City trying to prise a way through the massed Hammers ranks and it did not take long for City’s pressure and perseverance to pay off.
Only the woodwork denied the hosts after a David Silva pass deflected off Hammers captain Kevin Nolan to let in Aguero, who scuffed his shot against the post.
The Argentine did not take long to atone for his miss. Yaya Toure, Silva and Nasri combined with some intricate build-up play before the latter teed up Aguero to slot in at the near post.
Almost immediately, City came close to doubling their lead when a Nasri shot was parried by keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, who had to react quickly to turn Pablo Zabaleta’s follow-up around the upright.
In a first half marked by a period of applause in a touching tribute to Marc-Vivien Foe, who played for both clubs and died playing for Cameroon nearly 10 years ago, West Ham’s best chance came when Mohamed Diame’s volley was saved at the second attempt by Hart.
City capitulated when 1-0 up last week at Spurs and, when Tevez blazed over after a well-worked move after the break, their failure to create more of a cushion kept the Hammers in the game.
The visitors thought they should have had a penalty when a Matt Jarvis cross struck Zabaleta’s arm, although it was more ball to hand and the appeal was waved away by referee Howard Webb.
City could not find a finishing touch to some eye-catching passing moves as Nasri had a shot saved and a Tevez effort was diverted over by a lunging Joey O’Brien.
An unmarked Nasri’s failure to convert a Tevez cross only added to City’s anxieties and they were nearly punished for their profligacy when Collins sent a shot just wide after the home side failed to clear a corner.
Yaya Toure finally settled his side’s nerves and he did it in style by sending a 20-yard left-foot shot into the top corner, with Carroll’s late goal little more than a nuisance for the hosts.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini:
“I’m happy with this performance. I’m unhappy for the goals we missed as we could have scored more goals but this has been our problem this season.
“I’m also happy we remembered Marc-Vivien Foe, who was a great player for Manchester City.
“West Ham are a good team and have had a good season but we deserved to score four, five or six goals.”
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce:
“The second-half performance was more like us and, in the end, it was a stunning goal from Yaya Toure which secured the game for them.
“Our goals away from home have been poor this year and we must improve on that next season.
“We’ll hopefully address that in the summer but before that we have got three important games and we will try to keep improving our performances.”