Avram Grant admitted on Saturday evening that his team were second best to a team that could well be champions come the conclusion of the Barclays Premier League in May.
Manchester City were worthy 3-1 winners at the Boleyn Ground but the manager was equally certain that his team would make up the four-point gap to safety - and more - over the coming weeks. UEFA Champions League winner Yaya Toure was the City hero, scoring the first and making the second, before England winger Adam Johnson sealed the win with a late third. James Tomkins added a consolation but the three points that took City joint-top were never in doubt.
"Three-one was a little bit hard on us," said the manager, who had to reshuffle his pack again with the injured Danny Gabbidon dropping out of his ever-changing back four and Julien Faubert coming in. "Especially with the way we came back in the second half but they are a good team with good players. They are very strong physically and have a lot of quality.
"We did not pass the ball well in the first half and gave the ball away cheaply but we were better in the second half. We started well after half-time and were on top but they scored again on a counterattack and it was very difficult to come back."
Grant refused to complain about what seemed a certain penalty denied for the Hammers after Yaya Toure's apparent handball but was prompted to respond by the media. "I saw it now. It was a penalty but the referee didn't see it. It could have changed the game but we won't complain about this."
Moments later, City had doubled the advantage. Yaya Toure burst clear off the otherwise exemplary James Tomkins - who had frustrated the substituted Mario Balotelli all afternoon - to shoot against the post and see the ball cannon in off the back of Robert Green. The move had stemmed from a loss of possession in midfield and Grant said such mistakes would always be punished by such opposition.
"Manchester City are a better team than us, especially when we are playing without seven or eight first-team players. They have players that didn't even make the bench, like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Wayne Bridge.
"But the boys are trying and they will not give up the fight. They didn't give up against a team that can take the championship for sure. They have a big balance between quality players and physical players. They were not in the game but they were able to score in a moment. That was the difference."
While the league table does not make for good reading, Grant was defiant and determined. "We expect better from ourselves and even today we could have done something. We know what we need to do and we will make it happen. It won't be easy but we will get to a better position."