Just when it seemed the title race was done and dusted, along came Jarrod Bowen and Lukasz Fabianski. Two goals from the West Ham forward – his 17th and 18th of the season – and heroics from their goalkeeper to keep out Riyad Mahrez’s late penalty means Manchester City must now beat Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa next weekend to be certain of retaining their crown.
Yet, if Liverpool’s hopes of an unprecedented quadruple remain alive, Pep Guardiola could at least be thankful for his patched-up side’s second-half comeback through Jack Grealish and an own goal from Vladimir Coufal. In the end City could even have ended up as winners on a topsy-turvy afternoon that began and ended with West Ham supporters paying tribute to Mark Noble for the best part of two decades’ service.
As well as a pre-match montage narrated by Danny Dyer in dedication to “Mr West Ham” and a post-match parade that went on more than an hour, no expense was spared for the captain’s big day. The 35-year-old born just down the road in Canning Town had also been given a standing ovation before kick-off after writing a letter of appreciation in which he said he had “lived his dream” since making his first appearance under Alan Pardew in 2004.
While Noble had to be content with a late cameo that ended with wild celebrations after Fabianski saved the penalty six minutes from time, it was a torrid day for Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte. Both had been passed fit to start after limping out of Wednesday’s 5-1 win at Wolves but struggled to contain Michail Antonio and Bowen’s direct approach throughout.
Guardiola hinted on Friday that the impending arrival of Erling Haaland may not be the end of City’s spending in the summer, with Fernandinho having already confirmed he will be moving on. The veteran Brazilian was caught out of position early on by Bowen’s deep ball that required Ederson to spring into action by tipping the cross over the bar.
At the other end Grealish should have made more of a close-range header following João Cancelo’s teasing cross before Fernandinho’s effort whistled just over. But it was from the resulting goal-kick that West Ham took the lead.
Pablo Fornals did well to anticipate where the ball would drop after Antonio challenged Fernandinho in the air and his lobbed through-ball picked out Bowen, who was being played onside by a dozing Laporte. The former Hull forward still had plenty of work to do yet he made the finish look simple.
If the atmosphere was bouncing before then Bowen’s goal lifted it up another notch. One crushing late tackle by Coufal to bring down Grealish in full flight was greeted by a roar almost as loud, as the Czech Republic defender was shown a yellow card by Anthony Taylor. It took some last-ditch defending from Kurt Zouma and Craig Dawson to keep City out, although Gabriel Jesus will have been disappointed not to have done better with one opportunity that curled just past a post.
West Ham’s second goal on the stroke of half-time was another example of City’s inability to defend the long ball. Once again Antonio was sharper than Fernandinho and his delicate pass allowed Bowen ample time to pick his spot.
Unsurprisingly, City emerged for the second half with renewed purpose and they were given an immediate reward when Grealish’s goal-bound shot deceived Fabianski after it deflected off Dawson. They were almost level immediately when Kevin De Bruyne twice found space on the right but could not pick out a teammate before Fabianski saved at his near post from Jesus.
The goalkeeper had to be on his toes again to keep out Bernardo Silva’s shot from close range as City piled on the pressure. With De Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield as West Ham dropped deeper and deeper, it seemed only a matter of time until they found an equalizer.
From nowhere, Bowen then had a sniff of his hat-trick after Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko contrived to give the ball away but he could only find the side netting. Antonio also wasted a golden opportunity after more poor defending from City when he tried to lob a stranded Ederson, only for the ball to sail well wide.
How they and any Liverpool fans watching must have regretted those missed chances. The unfortunate Coufal could only watch in horror as De Bruyne’s free-kick diverted off his head and past Fabianski as City finally found parity with 20 minutes to play.
Bowen was unlucky to see another shot strike Laporte’s heel and go behind just before Noble was brought on to replace Manuel Lanzini for his swansong. It was a misjudgment from Dawson on Jesus with six minutes remaining that provided Mahrez with the chance to seal the points from the spot after the referee had initially decided against awarding a penalty. But Fabianski’s dramatic save means all is still to play for.