The Czech right-back, who embodies everything good about David Moyes’s side, collapsed to the floor with head in hands and looked close to tears.
West Ham had missed a last-gasp chase to take a point and deny Pep Guardiola’s side a 20th consecutive victory across all competitions. The fact they left with nothing, however, will have done little to dent their hopes of maintaining their shock push for Champions League football.
“We came to the best team in the country, probably the best team in Europe, and gave them a really good game,” said Moyes. “We were always in the game. You need to take the moments and we just didn’t take the moment at the end. If we play like that until the end of the season, we will give ourselves a great chance of being up there.”
City were not quite at their suffocating best – West Ham managing to keep their forward line quiet for the most part – as it took goals from two central defenders to seal the win; Ruben Dias and John Stones scoring either side of Michail Antonio’s wonderfully worked equaliser.
West Ham were solid but not lacking in ambition, a sign of just how far they’ve come under Moyes. Jesse Lingard, who played a vital role in their goal, impressed again in front of Steve Holland, the England assistant manager, and has raised the bar in terms of quality in the final third.
If they want to stay at this level, however, others need to meet Lingard’s level. There were times the Hammers got into promising positions, only to fail with the final ball or finish: Antonio clipped the outside of the post when he should have worked Ederson and Issa Diop was too indecisive with the injury-time chance in two examples.
City were hardly free-flowing either, but took their chances. Dias and Stones were ruthless with their openings and punished the visitors to move City 13 points clear of Manchester United.
“That is probably some of the reasons we have introduced Jesse Lingard,” said Moyes. “We had good moments to make better chances or a better finish and gave them up a couple of times too easily. There is one of the things we are trying to improve, technically better the right pass and the right timing of the pass.”
This result will not define whether West Ham maintain their top-four push, but reflecting that level of performance will be key.
“They have everything,” said Guardiola. “It was really difficult. They have the physicality. They have the quality of players in Lingard, [Pablo] Fornals. Declan Rice is a brilliant holding midfielder.”
The Hammers have all the tools to take a Europa League spot, and a touch of luck could even see them claim fourth. It certainly won’t be for a lack of drive or effort that they miss out.
Their showing here, without the likes of Angelo Ogbonna or Lukasz Fabianski, will only add to the sense that they have a chance to do something special this season and will ensure they can take confidence into games against Leeds United, Manchester United and Arsenal. That run over the coming weeks will define their fate.
Defeat to Liverpool last month saw West Ham respond with perhaps their performance of the season at Aston Villa. It won’t take much more than what was on show here to make that the same case against Leeds a week on Monday, and Moyes knows it.
“We’ve had a good season up to now,” said the Scot. “We’ve got a chance to have a great season and that is the message to the players.”