Premier League
Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham United 

Saturday, 8th February 2014
by Raedwulf

The Book of Goliath: Chapter II

Verse 1. Then did the supplicants make an appeal unto the Lord gods saying "Goliath hath been unfairly punished, we beseech thee show mercy unto him."

V2. And the Lord gods sat in judgement and considered the case.

V3. "Yea. And Verily" (For so do the Lord gods speak unto men), "Prove that Goliath hadth no ill-intent within his heart."

V4. The supplicants replied, "But Lords, how may man show what lies within another's heart? Surely, thou.. thee... whatever... can only look upon what hath happenedeth and judge upon the evidence of thine eyes?"

V5. The Lord gods answereth was, "Well, you're stuffed then, innit!" And Goliath's punishment stood, to much wailing & gnashing of the teeth at the Ends of the East.

V6. But in the Middle Lands there was great rejoicing, for they had feared to face Goliath.

Chapter III

V1. Joyfully, then, did the Villans of Aston send their many Davids out upon the field of battle, confident that, Goliathless, their foes could not stand before them.

V2. Yet were they confounded, for their foes stood dauntless, and conceded no ground.

V3. Wroth were they from the End of the East, for that Goliath had been denied to them. Their opponents they pierced with fatal blows.

V4. And in the Middle Lands there was much wailing & gnashing of the teeth.

There have been many words spent this week, here & elsewhere, on the qualities of referees in general, and Howard Webb in particular. I'm not one for ref-bashing. They have the hardest job in football. Players make mistakes & they get a bit of stick; managers make decisions we disagree with & we cuss them. But the ref that makes a mistake is remembered & reviled for ever more...

Probably the worst bit of nonsense I've seen about Swansea was the comment from a Guest here that "Webb was looking to send one of our players off". I'm afraid such allegations of bias display only the posters' prejudices. Aside from the fact that any ref that did that would be very quickly dropped down the leagues, Webb had a perfect opportunity to send Tomkins off for his tackle on Bony; the contact on the ball was very slender & obscured from both ref & linesman; and award a penalty to boot. He didn't.

The red card for Carroll was an obvious mistake; I can live with that. I cannot, for the life of me, see why it is such a crime for ref's to make mistakes. They've a difficult job, only one look at every incident, and all of the players will be, to a lesser or greater degree, trying to con them at some point during the game. All you armchair experts slating referees, how many of you have ever reffed a game at any level? I haven't; there's no way I would ever want to!

What does get my goat is that, having had a chance to watch it from every filmed angle, Webb is too stupid, too arrogant, or too frightened, to go the FA and say "I made a mistake". Everyone knows it was a mistake (pontificating about the weaknesses in the FA I won't go into here, or I'll never finish) except, apparently, Mr Webb. Thus we went to Villa Goliathless...

Simple Samuel did the predictable in selecting Carthorse Carlton. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of CC and I think the club made a huge mistake in releasing him in the summer, but just two games from AC shows the difference between the two. AC is a warhorse, CC a carthorse. If you prefer, extending the horse analogy, if they were racehorses, AC would be competing in Group 1's at Epsom & Ascot. CC would be in Handicaps at Kempton & Sandown - decent enough, just not in the same class.

CC will, like a Shire, uncomplainingly work all day long. But he's not going to win you any races. His first half performance epitomised West Ham today, I thought. He worked, bought a few free kicks, committed a couple of fouls, made life difficult for them, but was never setting things alight. He seemed to take a knock later on in the first half, and was replaced before the second.

Overall, it was, I thought, a gritty performance today. No-one sparkled; there wasn't quite the backs-to-the-wall heroism of Stamford Bridge, or the drive & good play of the Swansea game. For the first fifteen it was cagey, but very defensive. Then we started to impose ourselves on Villa.

On 23 minutes came the first real chance of the game, but the ball ran slightly behind Downing (ironic praise at this point for Mike Dean, who chose not send the post off for headbutting Villa's Bertrand!). A few minutes later, Jarvis was twice too slow to capitalise on the opportunity to get behind the opposition defence. His work-rate remains prodigious, his final delivery, whether cross or shot, remains merely prodigal, alas.

Villa's best chance of a combative but scrappy first half was Westwood's volley from a dropping clearance near the end; testament to another determined & organised display from midfield & defence. There were a dozen shots in the first 45; 7 to us, 5 to them; but whilst we had the better of them, neither side could get any on target.

Cometh the second half, *sigh* cometh That Man again. Kevin. Bloody. Nolan. Villa came out asleep (I wish more of our opponents would!). Nolan won the standard long kick-off, laid it out to Downing. He tricked his way inside, fed it in, one cheeky (and deflected) flick from Chicken Man & we're a goal to the good. Since we've only managed one point this season from losing positions, scoring the first is practically a necessity.

Did anyone expect a second that quickly? Dodgy, dozy Villa. They've a dreadful home record this year and on today's showing it's not difficult to see why. Borriello, on his debut, battled well on the left, Nolan robbed Delph on the edge of the area and then slotted in a calm finish.

We didn't park the bus immediately but, alas, we started to sink deeper & deeper. Villa hit the post on 65 minutes. You can say Adrian was lucky, since it rebounded off him & went wide but, equally, Villa would have been just as lucky had it gone in. After that, though, we were largely on the defensive. They threatened partly because Albrighton was dangerous from the moment he replaced Lowton on 56, but also because we conceded ground. West Ham, and Sam especially, should know better than that.

Nevertheless, whilst a looping Benteke header hit the bar 5 minutes later, Villa struggled to create anything meaningful. The centre mid partnership of Noble & Taylor continues to break up the opposition play, if it lacks something going fowards. The defence, now that we have one again, looks pretty solid; we've now the most clean sheets, twelve, in the Prem once more.

Taylor almost finished things off near the end after an excellent cross from Nocerino. As with Cole, he epitomised today's effort, a couple of minutes from the end, charging across the pitch to challenge Villa's right back in their half to put the ball out for a throw. Man of the Match really should go to the team as a whole, because I don't think there was a stand-out performance. But, notwithstanding the fact that I resist giving credit for merely scoring goals (why is scoring a goal valued more than stopping one? But it is!), notwithstanding that it's KBN, Nolan can have the MotM that I denied him last week. Just!

Three games, seven points. Norwich on Tuesday and, whilst I've a soft spot for the Canaries, there'll be no softness in three days time. Despite their good point today, we're in much better form than them, we've suddenly got no injury crisis. Had results gone our way today, we might have been 12th; 15th is accpetable. Even with Carroll suspended, a win on Tuesday, and, if results go as they might well do, we could easily be 10th or 11th on Thursday morning.
Goliath - who needs him?

Here endeth the lesson...

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Quick off his line again on the one occasion he needed to be, he had little enough to do, despite Villa's pressure in the last 20 minutes or so.

Guy Demel
Rock solid again. He did make one or two small errors, as he has done from time to time this season. Gave away a dangerous free kick on 78 minutes, but also cleared it. He won't get Hammer of the Year, but if there was a special award for dogged consistency, I reckon he'd be in with a real good shout!

George McCartney
Coped well with the lively Albrighton for most of the second half, pretty much stopped anything coming up the left before that.

James Tomkins
Much the same as Collins, without the booking or the dodgy free-kicks.

James Collins
Booked for an over-optimistic challenge, he was generally solid & untroubled. Long free-kicks were rather erratic.

Mark Noble
Overhit a few passes, but allowed little space & time to Villa in the middle of the park.

Matt Taylor
The same terrier-like performance we've seen in the last couple of games, albeit still without adding much threat going forwards.

Matt Jarvis
Learn. To. Finish your attacking moves. Still industrious, still can't find the killer cross. Or, today, a finish.

Stewart Downing
Lovely footwork to set up Nolan for the first. Not in the game as much as we might have hoped, but when the half time stat is only 20% of the attacks down the right, it's hardly his fault.

Kevin Nolan
Not quite the performance of last week but, dammit, two good finishes gets him Man of the Match.

Carlton Cole
Battled away, without having much decent service. Seemed to take a knock later on in the first half, and subbed at half time.


Marco Borriello
Our first look at the Italian. Like Cole, he didn't get much in the way of service. However, showed a great willingness to work the Villa defence, a few decent touches when he did get the ball, and an important contribution in our second goal.

Antonio Nocerino
Actually got 25 minutes today, instread of 3. Enough to show a work ethic & some skill, but not enough to have any real influence.

Winston Reid
20 minutes of match practice for Winston, essentially. No errors & a few useful blocks & clearances.

Jussi Jaaskelainen
Did not play.

Pablo Armero
Did not play.

Roger Johnson
Did not play.

Jack Collison
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Guy Demel, George McCartney, James Tomkins, James Collins, Mark Noble, Matt Taylor, Matt Jarvis, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan , Carlton Cole.

Goals: Kevin Nolan 46 Kevin Nolan 48                .

Booked: None booked.           .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Aston Villa: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Kevin Nolan.