Mario Balotelli means fireworks, especially at this time of year, as his neighbours in Cheshire would attest. Even when the Manchester City striker fails to spark, as was the case during an absorbing stalemate, the explosions can still follow him.
It was an old favourite here: a clash with the manager, Roberto Mancini, after his 69th minute substitution, that illustrated once again their exasperated father-rebellious son relationship.
Balotelli, who missed a glorious chance on 33 minutes, walked off with his features set in stone. Neither man acknowledged the other and when the Italian striker took his seat on the bench, behind Mancini, he began to mutter furiously. What made and tends to make the situation pure box office are Mancini's responses. There are no kid gloves, simply home truths. He meets fire with fire.
"Mario should be disappointed with the chance he missed, not [with] leaving the pitch in the last 25 minutes," Mancini said. "It was a bad chance he missed. A player is never happy to leave the pitch but if Mario had scored, he'd have stayed on the pitch. I'm the manager. I decide."
It was a game of misfiring strikers. Carlos Tevez, feted on his return to Upton Park, could not turn menace into end product; Edin Dzeko was off-colour; and Sergio Agüero, used only as a substitute for Balotelli with Tuesday's vital Champions League tie against Ajax in mind, could not convert his one half-chance.
For West Ham, Andy Carroll went close on three occasions, most spectacularly with an overhead kick that was deflected wide but he remains without a goal to his name so far this season. He has played six times for West Ham, twice for England and twice for Liverpool, his parent club, in August. He obviously needs a goal but his manager, Sam Allardyce, was all soothing reassurance.
Allardyce, who rated the point as his best at the club, said that his team simply had to keep seeking Carroll in the right areas and working on the quality of the service. "The percentages will pay off for him eventually, the goal will come," Allardyce said. "Get the first one and I'm sure he'll be off and running."
Carroll was given a stirring ovation when he was substituted for Carlton Cole in the second half while the home support rose to acclaim Tevez upon his withdrawal. The Argentina striker, who crossed his arms to the crowd in a Hammers sign before kick-off, is fondly remembered for his performances in West Ham's 2006-07 survival campaign.
The club have their sights set higher upon their return to the top division, after this result maintained their encouraging start. Allardyce bemoaned James Collins's hamstring injury, on the back of losing James Tomkins to groin trouble in Friday's training session, which led him, somewhat nervously, to send on the inexperienced Jordan Spence. West Ham's squad is becoming stretched, as daunting fixtures loom. Next up are Newcastle, Stoke, Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.
But there were reasons to be cheerful on Saturday, chiefly in the individual displays of Yossi Benayoun and Mark Noble and, collectively, in terms of the resilience, which saw City shut out for the first time in seven months. Kevin Nolan was also unlucky when his fourth-minute volley was incorrectly disallowed for offside. "We've played to our maximum and our players have performed better than Manchester City's on the day," Allardyce said.
Mancini was left to stew. He emerged for the second half before the players to sit alone in the dugout with his thoughts and, not for the first time this season, he railed at the lack of ruthlessness. Balotelli drew his ire but he was not the only culprit. City's four strikers have 15 goals in all competitions between them.
"We haven't scored a lot of goals this season, this is the problem," Mancini said. "I started with Balotelli, Tevez and Dzeko [for the first time] to be more offensive and create more chances and we had them. Maybe it would have been better to have more balance but I was happy with the performance. I was only unhappy with the chances we missed."
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image: © Andrew Brannan