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Premiership
Saturday, 3rd February 2007

Aston Villa 1
West Ham United 0

by East Stand Martin


Surreal. That's how it felt walking to Villa Park today. The last visit there of course was that famous cup semi-final win against Middlesbrough. Nine months later it feels like I'm living in a parallel universe.

Look at what's happened since then. First, we amazingly capture two Argentinean superstars. Our star striker gets injured in an England training session. Then we have a protracted and damaging takeover farce, which ends up with the bloke owning the Argies getting the prize snatched away from him by the weirdest looking Icelander you've ever seen in your life.

You are quality….errr no you’re sh*t

While this is all going on, we look half the team of last year and get ceremoniously dumped out of the UEFA cup. The manager who had brought us up and took us to the dizzy heights of our first FA Cup final for 26 years, then gets his marching orders from the geezer who was saying what a good job had been doing only a few short weeks earlier. He then gets replaced by a manager who hadn't been working and whom had spent the last 15 years at one club. The former manager then goes off to manage that very same club.

The new manager starts by beating Manchester United and then gets handed unheard of cash to bring in new players but has problems in convincing anybody to come. He tries to spend a reported £18 million on Darren Bent but with no success. One of his early signings is Nigel Quashie, the archetypal Jonah footballer who has turned relegating the clubs he plays for into a new art form.

Mascheranope

Meanwhile, the Argentinean who by universal acclaim was one of the best midfielders in the World Cup, doesn’t even make the squad and ends up in a bizarre international argument about whether he can play for three clubs in the space of 12 months. The transfer is allowed by FIFA but then put on hold while an investigation decides whether the whole deal was dodgy in the first place (which no doubt it was if Brown was involved). Injuries are the order of the day, particularly in defence, where a new signing who turns down Champions League football to come and play in a relegation battle at Upton Park gets injured on his debut.

The team cannot buy a win. A referee’s watch stops and allows an opposition equalizer. Another ref ignores one of the most blatant offside goals that has ever occurred in the Premiership to stand. The result is the new manager looks like he's lost the plot.

You couldn't make it up, could you? Is it West Ham United FC or some fictional Dream Team story from Sky TV? Someone f*cking tell me it hasn't happened.

You just knew things weren't going to get any better, stepping off the train at Aston station. I felt like Frazer from Dad's Army. “We’re doomed, doomed.”

They’ve got to play

The team lineup was a clear reflection of that old chestnut faced by managers who have just spent their chairman's hard borrowed cash on new players. You have to play the players you brought in or look a right tw*t. This meant persevering with the unconvincing Boa, the hapless Quasimodo and a new kid who has barely got off a plane from Spain.

Caroll remained first choice in goal, Upson made his debut alongside Davenport with Spector and McCartney at right and a left back respectively. Yossi and Reo Coker made the midfield look a little bit better with Zamora also starting up front.

The substitutes’ bench contained Green, Dailly, Marlon, Matty and Mullins. Quite frankly I can't remember a time when I immediately thought that at least four out of five subs should have started the game. Someone can tell me that I'm wrong about that.

A spectre of a Premiership player

Spector, who has been looking shaky to me for some time, made the first error of the game by conceding a free kick near the corner flag in the fourth minute. Petrov tried a curling shot which only just cleared the goal and landed on the top of the net.

It was Spector again five minutes later who was done for pace down the right but new Villa signing Carew - who looked different class today - headed a good cross over. A minute after this, Agbonlahor sent a raking ball into the box from the Villa right, but everybody missed it.

The lacklustre start by the visiting team was underlined on 12 minutes when McCann found himself with too much space allowing a shot from 35 yards which for a split second looked like it might go in the top left hand corner. Carroll looked unconcerned.

On 14 minutes Petrov profited from more space 10 yards outside the box, and unleashed a volley which just went wide of the upright. A minute later, Carroll showed why perhaps he is preferred by the manager, as a fortunate bounce for new signing Ashley Young allowed him to run forward to the edge of the box and hit a powerful shot which was superbly saved by a strong hand from the keeper.

On 18 minutes, Boa Morte made a good saving tackle after he had lost the ball from a corner. Dailly latched onto it and tried a 25 yard shot but this was always going over. Five minutes later Dailly did well to get a great tackle in on the ever threatening Carew as he burst towards the West Ham goal.

Zamora made his first real contribution of the game on 24 minutes as he surged on to a Boa Morte lay off. Reo Coker was begging for the ball running into the centre of the goal but Zamora chose instead a long ball to the far post where Yossi was waiting. He cut back well to beat a defender but his wide-angle shot was blocked.

Carew or Baros – no contest

Every time Carew got the ball down the West Ham right you were fearful about what would happen next as Spector clearly couldn't handle him. A really dangerous cross was put in on 26 minutes but fortunately Boa Morte was on hand to head clear.

Reo Coker was trying to raise the team and he tried a powerful run forward on 28 minutes which broke down because he overrun the ball. It looked like he was trying almost too hard.

Then a further surreal turn happened in this surrealiest of seasons. Upson - who had been looking fairly solid at the back – stretched to head a ball by the right hand touchline just short of the half hour and ended up clutching his leg. It looked like he had pulled a calf muscle and Dailly had to come on almost immediately to replace him. You begin to wonder whether the Chairman is under some obscure Viking curse.

Kepa, who had looked lost up until this point and starved of service, managed to get half a head on a ball on 33 minutes as Spector looped a cross in from the right but this bounced harmlessly past the post.

Behind

Three minutes later we were behind as Carew shrugged off a challenge as if it wasn't there in a central position and guided the ball past Carroll as he came out to try and make the block. It was clever ploy and deserved given the dominance of Villa in the first half.

It was frustration for the travelling fans and frustration for Carroll who really went for Spector a couple of minutes after the goal had been conceded. He came rushing out of the area to give the American right earful. Reo Coker also showed his frustration as the game entered added time when he was booked for a late tackle when he clearly thought he had got the ball.

Apart from that, it was great

It was another disappointing performance from West Ham. They had been no shots on goal; we looked clueless in the final third; we were losing the battle in the midfield and we had absolutely no width and pace. Spector also couldn't handle Carew.

For a few games now, we have been really lacking any threat down the flanks. The reason for this is quite simple. The natural instinct of both Yossi and Boa is to cut in centrally. The team set up is also one of keeping the two backs deep. This means that when we look to the wings the ball is picked up too deep.

Neither McCartney or Spector has great pace meaning that the ball is either hit too early or the opposition defence has time to regroup as we try to advance up the field. The debate not so long ago was about the importance of trying to add extra width and pace down the right. We didn't get Wright-Phillips or Ashley Young and at the same time Matty was taken out the team. Konch – a forward looking wing back is also not favoured by the manager due to the history of disagreement between the two. This can only mean that instead of adding to options and we have gone backwards. There is no pace and no width in the team.

Surely the manager would recognize the problem and bring Matty on for Boa Morte at half time? Surely the manager would see that Kepa was struggling and that the hustle and bustle of Marlon was needed to inject a bit of power and tempo? No changes were made.

You give me some shots, they can’t

Sorensen came out early for some goalkeeping practice which was not surprising as he’d hardly touched the ball the first half. Spector was then immediately looking suspect on 47 minutes as he allowed yet another cross into the box but Carroll gathered the ball. A minute later the ball was sent in from the Villa left again and it was lucky that there was no one on the end of it.

On 53 minutes, Young latched on to a pass just outside the West Ham box, but he was off balance and his shot went wide. A minute later the best cross in so far from West Ham came from Spector after an intelligent crossfield pass by Quashie. Unfortunately Zamora could not get a full head on it.

Carew was toying again with Spector on 58 minutes and it sent over a cross to the far post which was headed just wide. Two minutes later it looks certain that we would be 0-2 down as no-one wanted to take charge in the centre of defence. McCann just ran a long the edge of the box to find some space and hit a low shot which looked destined for the bottom left-hand corner. Carroll stood rooted to the spot helpless, gratefully watching the ball go just wide.

Delayed changes

The changes that should have been made at half time happened on 62 minutes with a double substitution of Kepa and Boa for Marlon and Matty. The latter got free for the first time down the left on 67 minutes and he put a great cross in low along the line of the 6 yard box. The ball was taken off the toe of Marlon by a great saving defensive tackle. A minute later it was panic stations in the West Ham box and a desperate scramble close to the goalmouth saw the ball kicked away for a corner.

Carew was replaced by Patrik Berger on 73 minutes and just after this, Yossi broke free down the right delivering a decent high cross. However, Zamora was adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper.

On 79 minutes, Davenport managed to good flick on from a long throw but no one could get the ball under control in a packed Villa box. Matty started a rapid move two minutes after this, and West Ham players were lining up trying to get a shot in. There were lot of defenders in the way at the shot which Yossi managed to get away on the edge of the box was blocked.

Late but fruitless rally

Carroll saved the day again on 82 minutes as a clever move started by Ashley Young allowed the ball to be fed centrally to Petrov. He had time to look up and pick his spot, but once again our keeper’s strong hand denied him brilliantly.

There was a shout for handball in the Villa box on 88 minutes following a great pass down the line from Yossi to Matty who put over a good cross which Zamora missed. This heralded a frantic last minute where three times West Ham were denied what looked like a certain goal. Sorensen made a reflex save and the ball also hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced out. Any grain of fortune in this luckless West Ham team would have seen the ball in the back of the net, but at the same time it was hard to make the case for a draw on the balance of play.

As the final whistle blew, our continuing poor run meets that you immediately look to other results. Inevitably the disastrous run of Wigan had to come to an end leaving us five points short of safety. It just had to happen, but you cannot continue relying on others to fail. You need to take your destiny in your own hands.

The season is slipping away and so is our Premiership status. There are now two massive games in a row at home to Watford and away at Charlton. We cannot afford to lose either of these games, yet the seriousness of that situation means that even if we win them, there is still a long way to go. The feeling that the task might be too great was not dismissed at all earlier in the week when the Chairman admitted that he was ready and prepared for the drop.

The one consolation I keep hearing is that an Eggy relegation will not be as disastrous as a Brown relegation. The story goes that financial resources are much greater, and the cash flow management, hand to mouth existence will not be the order of the day. This will be small consolation to me and every other West Ham fan on that trip up to Burnley and other Championship hellholes. Something else we all learnt last time about the nature of that league is that an immediate return cannot be guaranteed.



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 Click here to view all West Ham United vs Aston Villa match reports
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Player Ratings

Roy Carroll
Comments to follow.


Jonathan Spector
Comments to follow.


George McCartney
Comments to follow.


Matthew Upson
Comments to follow.


Calum Davenport
Comments to follow.


Nigel Quashie
Comments to follow.


Nigel Reo-Coker
Comments to follow.


Yossi Benayoun
Comments to follow.


Luis Boa Morte
Comments to follow.


Kepa Blanco
Comments to follow.


Bobby Zamora
Comments to follow.


Substitutes


Christian Dailly
(Replaced Upson, 29) Comments to follow.


Marlon Harewood
(Replaced Blanco, 59) Comments to follow.


Matthew Etherington
(Replaced Boa Morte, 60) Comments to follow.


Robert Green
Did not play.


Hayden Mullins
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: C.Foy.

Attendance: 41,202.

Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.

West Ham United

Roy Carroll, Jonathan Spector, George McCartney, Matthew Upson, Calum Davenport, Nigel Quashie, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Luis Boa Morte, Kepa Blanco, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: None.

Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 90          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Aston Villa

Sorensen, Bardsley, Cahill, Mellberg, Bouma, Barry, Petrov, McCann, Young, Carew, Agbonlahor.

Substitutes: Berger (Carew 72), Ridgewell (Young 90).

Subs not used: Berger (Carew 72), Ridgewell (Young 90).

Goals: Carew (35).

Booked: None booked..

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
East Stand Martin's Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker


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