Manchester City 2 // West Ham 1
MANCHESTER // Manchester City are tantalisingly close to achieving their goals for the season.
The FA Cup final offers the possibility of the long-awaited first trophy of the modern era, their final four league games the probability of Champions League football.
As West Ham United were seen off, the maths looks good and so, on current form, does the team.
A third successive win completed a glorious fortnight for City, whose cause has been aided by Tottenham Hotspur's stuttering form. Take six points from their remaining fixtures and a top-four finish is guaranteed.
Their recent rally is all the more gratifying because it has occurred in the absence of Carlos Tevez. Minus the talisman, others are sharing the goal-scoring burden.
Nigel de Jong and Pablo Zabaleta rank as infrequent finishers - indeed they began the game with a combined total of two City goals - but they doubled their tally within five first-half minutes.
The one regret was a failure to score the third goal that would have sealed victory. Their reward beckons.
"For all the season we stayed between first and fourth position," Roberto Mancini, the City manager, said. "I think we deserve to be in the Champions League."
There will be a novelty value to it, just as there was to City's opener. David Silva's corner hit Thomas Hitzlsperger on the chest, bouncing out to De Jong, who drilled his 20-yard shot past Robert Green with the assurance of a rather more regular scorer.
Actually, it was his first in two-and-a-half years at Eastlands.
Then Silva's deft chip over the West Ham defence was perfectly weighted for the overlapping Zabaleta.
From an acute angle, the City right-back's shot was probably going in, but his West Ham counterpart made sure, a sliding Lars Jacobsen accidentally applying the finishing touch.
"Probably after these two goals, we thought it was finished," Mancini said.
Instead, West Ham rallied. Joe Hart saved when Robbie Keane sprang the offside trap.
A couple of minutes later, a sliding Demba Ba halved the deficit after Hitzlsperger's cross bounced off Joleon Lescott's hand.
City should have added to their advantage, with Mario Balotelli twice coming perilously close to scoring.
The Italian striker curled a shot against the bar before Green recovered to block Yaya Toure's effort from the rebound.
Then, after Silva had dribbled around Green, Balotelli could not beat a backtracking James Tomkins, who stopped the ball on his own line.
In the end it mattered not. A fifth successive defeat for the Hammers means Championship football is a probability for next season.
With three games remaining, they have no margin for error. "I think it will be between seven to nine [points needed]," said Avram Grant, their manager.
"It's a pressure but more, it's a challenge."