Saturday, 14th August 2010
Gianfranco Zola's replacement saw his side humiliated on the opening day of the Premier League season at Villa Park by a Villa side who could have racked up double figures, given the sheer number of chances they were allowed to create by a Hammers side who were, quite frankly, an absolute shambles.
Despite having made five signings during the summer, Grant chose to start with only one - centre half Winston Reid, who started at right back - which proved to be a huge error. Radoslav Kovac, playing with the knowledge that his immediate future almost certainly lies elsewhere was hapless in the centre of midfield (so much so that he was replaced at half time) whilst James Tomkins, preferred to Danny Gabbidon had possibly his worst ever game in a West Ham shirt.
Villa, featuring the wantaway James Milner and Ashley Young were in command from the start. They were unlucky not to take the lead on 14 minutes when James Tomkins made his first error of the game with an underhit backpass that John Carew failed to capitalise on. However they side had to wait less than 60 seconds before (a clearly offside) Stewart Downing pounced at the far post to make it 1-0 after Rob Green had made a a mess of an attempted punch.
A shellshocked Hammers failed to respond and Villa continued to enjoy the freedom of Villa Park. To illustrate the difference between the teams, Villa racked up TEN corners in the opening half-hour; the only surprise was that they had to wait until the 40th minute to double their lead when Petrov lost tracker Faubert to head home an Ashley Young cross.
Avram Grant unsurprisingly rang the changes at half time with Kovac and the disappointing Luis Boa Morte hauled off. On came new signigs Barrera and Piquionne and with them a much-needed change in formation (to 4-4-2).
Those changes worked well initially as the Hammers went close to reducing the deficit on a number of occasions - most notably when Julien Faubert was granted a gilt-edged opportunity that he failed to convert with the goal at his mercy ten minutes into the second half.
But once the hour mark had passed Villa were to regain complete control of the game - embarassingly easily at times as West Ham looked like a bunch of strangers, and certainly not like a team that had gone through pre-season without suffering a single defeat.
The final goal arrived with 66 minutes on the clock when young Tomkins was once again made to look foolish after being beaten too easily by the Man City-bound James Milner. The England winger skipped inside Tomkins before firing across Green into the far corner.
For the reminder of the game Villa continued to take pot-shots at Rob Green's goal, hitting the post twice more but failing - somehow - to improve on their three-goal advantage. The Hammers, boosted by the introduction of Alessandro Diamanti managed to conjure a couple of half-chances but nothing to seriously test Brad Friedel.
So it's back to the drawing board for Avram Grant who now faces a very difficult week - and no doubt a visit from chairman David Sullivan, who has given the Israeli his unequivocal support since bringing him into the club.
Meanwhile a number of questions will be asked - like why Tomkins, who has played exclusively at right-back in pre-season reverted to the centre of defence, and why centre-half Winston Reid was played at right back.
However the biggest worry ahead of next weekend's visit of bogey-side Bolton will be the general manner in which the team played today. A distinct lack of cohesion points to a long, difficult season ahead.
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Suffered the expected post-World Cup abuse from the home fans and looked edgy. One attempted punch led to Villa's opening goal, but still made one or two decent stops.
A horrible debut - but not unexpected when a freshly-signed centre-half is thrown in at right-back at the last minute.
More like second season Ilunga than first season. Which doesn't bode well.
Booed like Green, and also looked edgy and nervous.
A horrible peformance and one that is likely to see him benched for the forseeable future. You just can't afford to make sloppy mistakes - as JT did - at this level.
Whether or not the protracted transfer speculation has had an effect is perhaps something for debate, but he was way below par here.
Worked hard, no lack of effort from a young man who needs a good season if he is to push on.
Still can't pass a football, which is criminal for someone playing at this level.
Got into some good positions but the final ball was often substandard. Missed our best chance of the game with just the 'keeper to beat from no more than eight yards out.
Luis Boa Morte
Little to suggest he is worth the new two-year contract he signed early on in the summer.
Fairly anonymous, failed to hold the ball up - and when that happens, West Ham rarely play well.
(Replaced Boa Morte, 46 mins) Helped to make us look a better side after the break. Looking forward to seeing more of those orange boots.
(Replaced Kovac, 46 mins) Looked lively although failed to influence matters to any extent.
(Replaced Tomkins, 73 mins) Was this the Italian's final farewell?
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Andy D Urso.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Winston Reid, Herita Ilunga, Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Radoslav Kovac, Julien Faubert, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole.
Sent Off: None sent off .
Friedel, Warnock, Dunne, Young, Clark, Downing, Milner, Young, Petrov, Albrighton, Carew.
Substitutes: Reo-Coker (Milner 85), Weimann (Young 87), Bannan (Albrighton 89).
Subs not used: Heskey, Guzan, Lichaj, Beye.
Goals: Downing (15), Petrov (40), Milner (66).
Sent Off: None.