The part of Raheem Sterling was played by David Silva, but the story stayed the same. For the fourth game in a row, Manchester City conjured a late winner. First Feyenoord, then Huddersfield Town, followed by Southampton and now West Ham United can testify to their endurance. Each has acquitted themselves well against City, defending with great determination. Each has been defeated in the final few minutes in a manner that they are entitled to feel is cruel.
Sterling had conjured dramatic deciders in three successive matches but City are no one-man team. Kevin de Bruyne delivered a cross to the far post and a stretching Silva volleyed it in. It was more ungainly and more spectacular than usual but evidence of the substance City have long known their stylist possesses. In a week when the man many regard as their greatest ever player had extended his contract until 2020, it was another reminder of the importance of Silva.
His goal was a reward for perseverance and attacking intent. They were overloaded in attack after Gabriel Jesus’ half-time arrival, with a genuine front four, though the two central midfielders combined for the decisive goal. It was another illustration that it helps to have the depth of talent in the City ranks.
Not that the drama ended with Silva’s goal. Shortly before it, Ederson denied Michail Antonio what could have been a winner. As the game moved into added time, Diafra Sakho almost equalised. Shambolic when they lost 4-0 to Everton on Wednesday, West Ham were much improved, but nevertheless lost again.
It was further evidence that, as Pep Guardiola expected, games have become tougher. Routs have given way to narrower wins. City had not trailed in the league since August. They went behind for a second successive Sunday and, once again, displayed their powers of recovery.
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If their quality was apparent in autumn, character is becoming necessary in winter. Their leveller showed as much. It amounted to a redemptive goal for Nicolas Otamendi. Culpable for Angelo Ogbonna’s opener, he levelled from close range, sliding in to convert Jesus’ cross.
City’s centre-backs have now contributed seven goals this season, perhaps not something that would be expected of a Guardiola side, but proof that Otamendi and John Stones have been weapons when they have ventured forward.
A third City centre-back did not take the field. Sunday's Manchester derby looms large in minds. Paul Pogba will not feature at Old Trafford, following his red card at Arsenal. Guardiola sought to ensure two of City's premier players would not have watching briefs. Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho, both a booking away from a ban, were benched, and the Belgian remained an unused substitute. Leroy Sane, who is in the same situation, was selected and avoided a caution.
Instead, City had other alarms. Huddersfield had scored from a corner and Southampton almost did. West Ham also suggested they are susceptible at set pieces. First a stretching Antonio volleying over after Cheikhou Kouyate flicked on Aaron Cresswell’s corner. Then Cresswell crossed and Ogbonna rose above Otamendi to head in the first top-flight goal of his career.
Thereafter, goalkeeper Adrian, deputising for the loanee from City, Joe Hart, made a string of saves, thwarting Silva, De Bruyne, Sane and Jesus and suggesting he should stay in their side. West Ham were obdurate opponents. City can expect to encounter more packed defences, congesting central areas, in rearguard actions. So far, they keep on finding a way to win.
It was their 13th in a row in the Premier League, their 20th in all competitions - a club record. They have given themselves the chance to equal the division’s record of 14, next week and away at Manchester United.