Manchester City had plenty to smile about in the victory over West Ham.
Right, City still has to run through the tape to lock down second place in the Premier League. And proper form heading into the FA Cup final with Wigan (the last really important game of the season) is important.
But City's players must feel like marathon runners having to find a finishing kick to get to the end even as they watch the winner's prize go to someone else.
For his part, Roberto Mancini underscored the need to press on in the face of disappointment with the side he picked:
Interesting fact that this is the first time Roberto has picked the exact team that started against QPR at home last season #cityvwestham— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) April 27, 2013
His team responded Saturday, posting a relatively comfortable 2-1 victory at home that only looks close based on a late strike from Andy Carroll that came after the result was essentially in the book.
Players rated from 5 (Yaya Toure's sweet strike) to 1 (Samir Nasri's whiff on a splendid Sergio Aguero cross):
England's busiest keeper only faced three shots on target, but they were all real testers. Hart could not keep the third one out—a low laser from Carroll—quite possibly due in part to a late knock he sustained. Indeed, if he had not been so close to another clean sheet, he might have been substituted. In the next few days we should find out if Hart's injury is as minor as City hopes. 3.
The Argentine has been exceptionally good this season. One wonders if City clinches second place whether he might get an early call to stand down and watch a couple of the last games on the slate. Then again, when as today he is the only one awake as the second half starts (cutting out a dangerous Gary O'Neil cross), maybe they cannot do without him. 4.
These matches on the run-in are pretty important for Kompany, whose gleaming luster has been tarnished a bit by this season's injury-marred campaign. Stuff like clearing a corner kick right onto Diame's boot is not what anyone wants to see, though. 3.
City has a number of players who seem to be playing to get themselves noticed by other clubs. Lescott is at the top of that list. Today's assignment for Lescott was to neutralize Carroll's length with his own, and he did that really well. Even the goal Carroll scored was more Hart's fault than anyone else's, and it came so late as not to matter. 4.
It was a relatively quiet day for Clichy, but those are the best kinds of days for most defenders. He made a few decent runs into the opposing half as well. 3.
It is too bad that next to goals and all the other statistics that are kept that there is not a "rampaging 50-yard run with the ball" statistic. Yaya would lead all of football in that one it seems. Sometimes they come to naught, but they are still thrilling to watch. You're right, though: it is more fun to watch him pound ground-to-air missiles into the top corner of the net. A very crucial goal in the end, by the way. 5.
City needed Barry's steady presence in the midfield all day, what with Yaya, Samir Nasri and David Silva constantly looking upfield to create. Particularly as the match wore on and City clung to a one-goal lead, the team relied more and more on Barry. It was a professional shift for sure. 4.
He was a welcome sight back in the side, and his early strike hissed just wide of the West Ham goal. All told, though, he looked like a player still finding his way coming off an injury. That was to be expected. 3.
Maybe it is a bit harsh to say that Robin van Persie or Luis Suarez would have buried Sergio Aguero's perfectly placed and weighted cross in the 67th minute instead of planting it in Joey O'Brien's chest. That is what it says here, though. 3.
City desperately wants Nasri to light it up in the season's last few weeks. It is nearly impossible to imagine Nasri being back at the Etihad next season, but a strong finish could at least bump his transfer fee up a bit. The club's website says as much:
16. City well on top in the possession stakes early on here, and have had moments, but yet to really threaten. @samnasri19 looking dangerous— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) April 27, 2013
Nasri's assist on Aguero's opening goal is exactly the sort of class City thought they had all along. Pity it is only here now that the title race is over. 4.
More and more, it feels like the title race might have finished differently if Aguero had been healthy all season. Aguero's opening goal was well-taken, and his cross to Nasri in the second half looked sure to be converted. Aguero might have taken one more touch on the fat rebound Jussi Jaaskelainen left from Zabaleta's late strike, but this was an excellent game from Aguero. 4.
James Milner (78th minute for Silva)
City would have preferred to start Milner, still recovering from a hamstring tweak. He was decent in a short spell at the end of the match. Mancini brought him on to salt away a 1-0 victory; after Yaya's goal put the game effectively out of reach, Milner did not have much to do. 3.
Javi Garcia (84th minute for Tevez) and Kolo Toure (87th minute for Nasri)