Sergio Agüero scored twice as Manchester City, who always win when Agüero scores, finally benefited from both these things happening away from home in the Premier League. A 3-1 defeat of West Ham at the Boleyn Ground was City's first win away from home since May and a result that leaves them fourth in the Premier League. More encouragingly for Manuel Pellegrini this was a resilient performance as West Ham fought gamely at times but were undone by three moments of high-class incision as David Silva in particular was consistently inventive behind the strikers.

"If we continued playing the same way we played in the other games [away from home], I was sure we would win," Pellegrini said afterwards. "Today Chelsea and Arsenal had already won their games. Three points was very important."

It was, no doubt inadvertently, a nicely veiled dig at the reigning champions after a performance that made light, in the end, of a potentially tricky trip. After victory at White Hart Lane two weeks ago, Sam Allardyce already had the scalp of André Villas-Boas dangling from his sporran: here was the chance to add another well-resourced darling of the tactical classes. Allardyce again fielded his team without a head, a 4-6-0 full of willing runners, albeit with a tendency to cross the ball towards what at times resembled a rather mournful Andy Carroll-shaped hole. There had been some loud cheers before kick-off at the announcement of Carlton Cole's return to the bench for his first home game since being signed (by West Ham) after being released (also by West Ham), an on-off relationship that is shaping up like an Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton of the Premier League years, albeit perhaps the excitement came in part from seeing a striker of any description on the home bench.

Confronted by Big Sam's midfield block, Big Man picked a strong City team, changing his entire back four without obviously diminishing it, and deploying the full weight of City's midfield riches in support of Agüero and Alvaro Negredo. Before long City were moving the ball smoothly between the lines and dominating possession, with Javi García and Matija Nastasic able to play as free men at the back. The opening goal duly arrived after 16 minutes, created by a beautifully nonchalant dummy-walk by Negredo. Yaya Touré played a straight pass down the centre of the pitch and Negredo simply strolled past the ball, allowing Agüero to run through untracked and ease a low shot past Jussi Jaaskelainen.

It was a bafflingly simple goal to concede – cut through the middle – for a team with six men crammed into midfield and for a while West Ham did seem disorientated by the relentless movement of Silva and Agüero. They did, though, creep back into the game, driven on by the well-deployed aggression of Mark Noble. After 33 minutes Nastasic had to produce a goal-saving interception from Razvan Rat's cross and by half-time West Ham were finally testing that depleted central defence via a series of corners.

City have made a habit of dropping points from winning positions. Here they started quickly after half-time, scoring the most West Ham-like of second goals. Agüero was fouled by Winston Reid and from Silva's dinked free-kick he headed into the top corner via Jaaskelainen's flailing glove: a lovely finish but delivered from a pocket of space so large an ambitious East London property developer might have been able to fit a small apartment block in it.

West Ham had no option but to attack, with Ravel Morrison – subject of some giddy talk this week, and eye-catching in moments here – helping to spark the fightback. It was from his hooked pass that Ricardo Vaz Tê scored with an athletic overhead volley across Joe Hart from six yards out.

Pellegrini responded by introducing Aleksandar Kolarov for Negredo before – like a man dragging his favourite pair of muddy wellies out of the car boot – bringing on James Milner for Samir Nasri as City made the game safe with 10 minutes left. Agüero carried the ball through the centre and back-heeled into the path of Silva's diagonal run. Silva finished beautifully, placing the ball past Jaaskelainen's right hand and into the top corner – reward for a waspishly incisive performance throughout.