Saturday, 9th December 2000
The Villa fans held up a load of photocopied '£' signs as the teams ran out on to the pitch, presumably in an effort to force chairman Doug Ellis to dig deep into his pockets and spend some cash on a much needed striker. Judging by today's display from their front line you can't blame them.
Quite what formation Harry Redknapp used today is arguable. On paper it looked like a straight 442, with Steve Potts and Rigobert Song as full-backs, with the two Pearce's at centre-half. Diawara was playing wide left with Trevor Sinclair on the other side, and Michael Carrick partnered Steve Lomas in the middle. Paolo Di Canio and Freddy Kanoute led from the front.
I say it's arguable because Sinclair appeared to have license to roam; he and Diawara would switch often throughout the game, and at times Song appeared to be playing at centre-half too.
Once again you were left questioning Harry Redknapp's selections. With Marc Keller sitting frustrated on the bench, it is hard to see why Potts played at left back. Hardly his natural position after all.
The game itself was, to borrow an old cliche (again), a game of two halves. West Ham dominated the opening 45, and should be kicking themselves for not having wrapped up the game by the half-hour mark. Kaba Diawara (free header from three yards out) and Freddy Kanoute (blasted wide from ten yards with only James to beat) were the biggest culprits, although Steve Lomas and Trevor Sinclair also squandered excellent opportunities. All Villa had to offer was an audacious chip from Lee Hendrie which had Shaka Hislop stretching to tip over the bar.
The goal, which arrived on 15 minutes was a cracker. Michael Carrick took his time when receiving the ball 20 yards out, composed himself and drove home a beauty which pinged off the left post leaving David James no chance. The Villa fans earlier chants of 'England's number one' were cruelly echoed by the home fans, who had taken it upon themselves to give James a good old East End welcome following his comments about Paolo Di Canio earlier in the week.
Villa's equaliser arrived with just eight minutes of the first half remaining. Lee Hendrie let one fly from outside the box which cannoned off of both posts before nestling in the back of Shaka Hislop's net.
The second half was a different story. The Hammers lost the midfield battle hands down (thanks mainly to the excellent George Boeteng). John Gregory's decision to swamp the midfield with five playing across the park certainly had the desired effect. Harry Redknapp's decision to bring on John Moncur for Kaba Diawara was clearly made too late.
Despite this neither side created many clear chances, and a draw was probably a fair reflection of the game.
A word about the two best players on the park today; Rigobert Song and Freddy Kanoute. Song's commitment to the cause went way beyond the call of duty with the postponement of his mother's funeral so that he could play today. And he was outstanding; instrumental in snubbing out the Villa attack, whilst combining this with several forays into the opposition half to support the attack. Hats off to Harry Redknapp again; Redknapp has made it clear that Song is no replacement for Rio Ferdinand (who suffered yet another defeat playing for Leeds today) but on today's evidence you would have a good case for the opposite. This boy can play a bit.
And the only thing missing from Freddy Kanoute's game today was a goal. He tormented the Villa defence all afternoon, combining excellent hold up play with skillful and intelligent running. If Rio Ferdinand is worth £18m then recent offers of between £8-10m for Kanoute are ludicrous.
On the other side it is impossible not to mention the 'contribution' of former footballer of the year David Ginola. Since his £3m transfer from Tottenham he has put on an incredible amount of weight, and his only notable contributions to the game today were his constant diving and whingeing, which duly earned him a yellow card in the second half.
The Hammers should have Christian Basilla back in time for next weekend's trip to Everton which is good news, but sadly a week too late. Steve Lomas and Michael Carrick failed to impose themselves on the game after the break in midfield, and it was clear that a big, strong holding player was needed out there. Once again, the towering figure of Marc-Vivien Foe was sadly missed.
Final word - I hope the little lad who was hurt by the turnstile gate on the way into the lower Centenary Stand is okay. He was caught between the gate and the wall as the person in front of him went through, and was in some considerable pain. Something for the stadium manager to have a look at I think.
West Ham United: Hislop, Potts, I Pearce, S Pearce, Song, Sinclair, Lomas, Carrick, Diawara, Di Canio, Kanoute
Subs: Moncur (Diawara 73), Bywater, Keller, Tihinen, Suker
Aston Villa: James, Barry, Alpay, Southgate, Wright, Boeteng, Ginola, Merson, Stone, Hendrie, Dublin
Subs: Enckelmen, Delaney, Staunton, De Bilde, Samuel
Goals: Carrick (15), Hendrie (37)
Booked: S.Pearce, Alpay, Barry, Ginola
Referee: Mike Riley (inconsistent, 4/10)
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