The Manuel Pellegrini bandwagon rolls on thanks to inspirational Álvaro Negredo as the Irons are left to melt in the fire
"I think that the last month of 2013 was fantastic for us. We played nine games during December. We won eight and drew just one and we started the new year with another good win at Swansea and a draw in the FA Cup at Blackburn Rovers. Now, in the second half of the season, we will try and convert the positive start into trophies." So said Manuel Pellegrini before this first leg that failed to draw a large crowd but which proved another goal rush in the City cathedral as they sewed up the tie with the away game to play. Whoever of United or Sunderland provide the opposition might be best advised to see the Capital One Cup final as a good day out with little chance of securing the trophy if City are in this mood.
This is the debut season when Alvaro Negredo cannot stop bursting the net for City. With the hat-trick he collected here the Spaniard took his tally to 18 in 28 appearances in what is proving a stand-out first campaign. For his opening trick Negredo hurtled at Adrián's goal while carefully eyeing a Yaya Touré ball that came in over his shoulder before he volleyed home sweetly without breaking stride. The second was equally impressive. This time the 28-year-old hungrily beat Adrián to a pass from Edin Dzeko, who scored twice himself, to find the net. A trio of fine finishes was completed when his killer left foot curled home. The sight of one of Pellegrini's big guns, Touré, limping off after 25 minutes following a tackle on Mohamed Diamé was hardly edifying for the Chilean as he plots a four-pronged attack on silverware. City could breathe again when the Ivorian returned to the fray and then cheer loudly when Touré cantered 40 yards, then zipped the ball beyond Adrián to make it 3-0 and reduce the visitors to a damage-limitation exercise. The hope will be there are no repercussions from Pellegrini returning him to the field after the knock, with Touré being replaced on 66 minutes.
"Here for the piss-up, we're only here for the piss-up" sang the visiting Irons fans when they were "only" 2-0 down to a Blue wave that kept on rolling over their side. A theory doing the rounds before kick-off was that the Hammers would do a Crystal Palace, who kept City to a 1-0 win here on 28 December, and park the coach to try to squeeze a draw or narrow defeat. If this was the Allardyce plan it failed and the truth was that "embarrassing" is not an unfair adjective to describe his side's performance throughout the game.
After being cruelly dropped by Pellegrini's predecessor, Roberto Mancini, before last season's FA Cup final when the Italian had stated he would do no such thing, the Romanian is used to crushing disappointment. A confident take from an early corner and a careful watch of a Diamé curler was all that was required of Costel Pantilimon on what was a particularly quiet night to be the City No1. As was the story when he dislodged Joe Hart earlier in the season only to be demoted again, the 26-year-old did little wrong but will still fear being the fall guy again on 2 March. Following this demolition City can book their hotel and have the bespoke cup final suits made up. But Pantilimon now has to sweat to discover if Pellegrini names him and not Hart in his starting XI for the showpiece.
The final furlong has been entered in the race for outsiders to be named as one of Roy Hodgson's final picks for the plane to Brazil. Two of the least likely lads to make the flight might have used this high-profile contest to remind the manager why they have been England regulars in the not-so-distant past. The problem was that the action occurred at the wrong end of park for each as the centre-back Joleon Lescott watched as his side pummelled the opposition, which meant Stewart Downing, too, was reduced to a spectator forced to see his defence take an incessant hammering. Theo Walcott's knee injury offers a glimmer of a chance for Downing, yet having to impress Hodgson by performing in a side embroiled in a relegation dogfight is a big ask. Lescott may have a better – though only marginally - hope of being selected but first he needs a loan move away from City to find regular first-team action.