Manchester City failed to take advantage of title rivals Chelsea's slipup at Swansea with a goalless draw at Upton Park. It wasn't a match that the defending champions deserved to win -- if anything, West Ham United will feel aggrieved at having a perfectly good early goal ruled out for offside when Kevin Nolan turned the ball past Joe Hart in the fourth minute.
The midfielder had done brilliantly to burst clear of the defence and acrobatically volley home a free kick. Unfortunately for West Ham, the linesman's flag was up, and the goal was ruled out for offside. Replays indicate that City striker Edin Dzeko had, in fact, played Nolan on.
The visitors had a taste of their very own poor offside decision when they made their first significant assault on Jussi Jaaskelainen's goal. Samir Nasri unleashed a blistering effort from just outside the box, and the goalkeeper could only spill the shot in the vague direction of Dzeko. The big Bosnian nodded back across the face of the goal for Mario Balotelli, only to see his strike partner miss the ball. Only the fact that the flag was (incorrectly) up saved Balotelli's blushes.
West Ham were generating plenty of chances. The 18th minute saw Matt Jarvis connect with Yossi Benayoun, who volleyed his shot off the crossbar thanks to the timely intervention of Hart's gloved hands. Then Mohamed Diame got in on the act, blasting just over after turning the City defence inside out with a run down the left. And even Andy Carroll was enjoying himself, shooting just past the post a little while later.
At the other end of the pitch, the end of the half saw the visitors begin to get a foothold in the match. Carlos Tevez thought he had a penalty when Joey O'Brien brushed up against his heels as the striker burst into the box -- it would have been a soft one -- but most of the action was falling to Balotelli. And he wasn't doing so well with the applying-the-finishing-touch business.
The Italian should have scored when he was picked out unmarked from a free kick, but rather than heading the ball past Jaaskelainen from five yards, he opted to stretch his leg out, ballooning the ball well over instead. He did rather better with his next opportunity, twisting acrobatically to make solid contact on a cross, but the shot went wide anyway.
If City thought that the West Ham opportunities would dry up at the half, they were pretty thoroughly mistaken. Nolan gave Hart a scare with a header before Carroll attempted an ambitious bicycle kick that deflected off Gael Clichy and trickled away to safety. But it was still the visitors who looked more dangerous. Carlos Tevez shot wide before Gareth Barry managed to do the same from two yards (fortunately for the former Aston Villa midfielder, he'd already been whistled for handball).
The Hammers were rather under the cosh, especially when Roberto Mancini added Sergio Aguero to the mix. There was almost constant pressure on Jaaskelainen's goal, relieved only by the occasional counterattack. But somehow, the hosts' defence held out for 21 City shots, leaving West Ham wondering what might have been had Nolan's early strike not been ruled out.