Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 0
Saturday, 9th May 2015
MISSING: West Ham United Midfield. If found, please post to Signor Allardici, c/o Chadwell Heath Training Ground, Saville Road, RM6 6DU.A little exagerrated, perhaps, but not much.Noble protested volubly when a free-kick was awarded against him on 5 minutes. Quite what for, I'm not sure, since he shoved Grealish over quite blatantly. Bacuna put the kick over the bar.
Barely a minute later, Noble gave the ball away with a bad lateral pass in the middle of our half. Grealish won a corner. After a bit of pinball, a hammered Villa shot was blocked by Nolan. For the rest of the match, Noble was pretty anonymous.
Downing tried to chase Grealish back on the half hour. He couldn't catch him. Grealish charged into the box, pulled the ball back from the goal-line through Collins' legs, Cleverley cleverly tucked away the only goal of the game.
Downing for the rest of the game? Well, he was a bit more noticeable in the second half, but the first was a low baseline to improve on. Kouyate was scarcely any better; low-key all game long.
It comes to something when Nolan, who also wasn't great, was our best midfielder of the opening period. He was at least noticeable (although he wasn't the only one; more on that in a sec), even if the most significant example was arguing for far too long with a tolerant referee over a not given penalty shout.
Then there's Amalfitano. He was noticeable, alright. In the first few minutes, he looked creative, and our most dangerous player. Around the half hour, he simply looked cretinous. Again.
Two coming-togethers with Cleverley, two displays of petulance. Two attempts at kicking out at same when the ref's back was turned after the second. The first one missed, the second just barely made contact. It was several rungs below pathetic, but had it been spotted, he'd have been off. Just as he was sent off against West Brom in the cup for being abysmally stupid.
I'd have yanked him off immediately. As it was, both he and Nolan were withdrawn at half-time. Noble followed on 76. Ignoring injuries, Sam isn't noted for his early substitutions. Three midfielders replaced, two of them early. What does that tell you?
Under Sam, the midfield is 5 as often as 4. If half the outfield players don't perform, what can you expect? Very little. Which is what we got.
Song and, especially, Nene improved things after the break. Alex had a purple patch for a couple of months before the year turned. We all raved about him, me included. Outside of that period, he has been only an ordinary Premiership midfielder.
Frankly, that's an acceptable standard for West Ham right now. If he only wanted ordinary Premiership midfielder wages; say ??20-30K / week; I'd still say sign him. It'd be well worth it for the occasional stellar passages. Trouble is, he thinks he's worth stellar wages week in, week out, and he doesn't produce anything like often enough.
Today, he yet again played like he was half asleep; as I say, an improvement on what we had, but not good enough, and nothing like how he can play. One thing I definitely won't miss when he inevitably departs is his habit of fouling opponents from behind, and then holding both hands up, palms forward, with an innocent expression.
"What, me, ref? I didn't foul him. Honest!" Yes you did, pal. Half-a-dozen times in the second half (I exagerrate), and not once did you have a chance of actually winning the ball.
Finally, there's Nene. He now only has two more chances to maybe show us what he can do. He is most un-Brazilian like in his appetite for chasing and tackling. He definitely has some of the Brazilian flair about him, though, and an energy and willingness to have a go that have been sorely lacking at times in the last part of the season.
I'm quite certain we won't be signing him in the summer. Even though he's 34 in July, I would, though. Sign Nene, get rid of Nolan and Amalfitano. He'd only be a stopgap, but he'd definitely be an improvement!
It was thanks to Nene that we came so close to equalising. He played a corker of a cross in to Valencia, who deftly flicked it into the far corner with his head, well out of the reach of Given. It was ruled out for offside, and later replays have shown this to be the correct decision, by a matter of about 6 inches.
The truth is we didn't deserve anything from the game and neither did Villa. We were both pretty awful on the day, in a pretty awful game. Villa won all three points, which they need rather more than us, because they were less bad, not because they were any good.
After Noble's early errors, I never took another note for 20 minutes. Then, that was only for an easily saved low long range effort by Delph. Just before the half hour, we had one of very few decent passages of play up the left, but although Amalfitano's finishing cross wasn't awful, it did curl straight into Given's hands.
A minute later, we were behind after Grealish's surge into our box, almost the only bright spot of a drab game. A couple of minutes after that, Burke made a rare error, misjudging a header, but Ginge rescued him. Then Amalfitano made a complete tit of himself, not once but twice. He did offer his hand to Cleverley both times, I'll grant him that much, but Cleverley refused it both times.
On 37 came our penalty shout. Valencia went down in the box, having had his arm tugged by Bacuna, but he went down very easily. Unfortuntely for us, referee Mason, who had a decent enough game, was looking at Nolan and Given.
This was his one error. Nolan, standing still, holding his ground as best he could against Given and two Villa defenders, was somehow adjudged to have actively fouled the Villa keeper. Because Mason was looking at that, he wasn't looking at Bacuna and Valencia.
That is disappointing for us, but the ref has to be looking somewhere. I don't blame him for missing Bacuna's tug so much - there was plenty of argy-bargy in the six yard box to occupy his attention. I just can't see how a foul could be given against Nolan. What is he supposed to do? Step aside and wave Given through?
Then Kouyate went down clutching his face. I'm still not certain what contact there was, but at this point the game was starting to get niggly and heated over nothing very much. Happily, the half-time whistle went before things got out of hand, and our biggest liability didn't reappear.
Nene made an impact almost immediately after the re-start. He did really well to control a fierce pass from Downing that came across the face of the box, 20 yards out. His snapshot, no more than a half-chance really, cleared the bar, but not by much.
Just before the hour, Given theatrically tipped over a Collins header from a corner. Ginge did well to get it on target at all, given the pressure he was under, and that he was leaning back. A couple of minutes later he was maybe saving us from 0-2, sticking out a big boot to hook away a dangerous cross, with Villa players lurking.
On 65, came Valencia's offside equaliser. Nene pled with the linesman to no effect. Song got himself booked on 70 for yet another foul from behind, this time on Grealish. On 76 Cole came on. Surprisingly it was Noble that went off, and suddenly we were playing two up front.
It had little effect, as the game petered out in scrappy fashion. There was still time for one more good chance. As regulation time ran out, Grealish played substitute Agbonlahor in with a 50 yard pass. Cresswell managed to put him under sufficient pressure that the result was a scuffed shot wide.
Man of the Match is obviously not going to go to any of the regular midfield. Nor will it be Valencia, starved as he was of any service or support. The defence were under a fair bit of pressure, due to the missing midfield. Burke had a relatively quiet game, but he'll learn more playing in a struggling side, I suspect. Benteke, for all his ability, form and experience, got little change out of him.
Properly, I should give the award to Jenks or Ginge. Both had decent games; had they had less so, we surely would have lost by more. However, I'm going to be slightly soppy for once, and give it to Nene.
He only had a half, but livened us up no end. Every time he comes on, he wants to work, to chase, to make something happen. He very nearly did today. He has not been given a fair crack of the whip; probably because he was a David signing, not a Sam one; he should have been used a lot more. He probably won't get a start in either of the last two games, but he did more than enough today to show that he ought to. And since he'll probably not get another chance to win Man of the Match, I therefore give it to him today.
On the day when one set of claret cousins went down, despite that Burnley beat Hull, another have probably secured their survival, courtesy of that win and their own over us. It's Hull, now, that look in dire straits - 2 points shy of safety with Spurs away and Man Utd at home to come. It's hard to see the Tigers even matching the Villans, who are 4 points ahead, so Villa are all but safe.
We continue to stumble towards the close season. Only Everton at home and Newcastle away remain. If we play like this next week, Everton, who are in reasonable form, will murder us. Frankly, the end of the season cannot come quickly enough. Then a decision can be made over the manager, and we can start to build again...
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Player RatingsAdrian San Miguel del Castillo
Couldn't do anything about the goal, and didn't have a whole lot else to do.
A decent individual performance in a woeful team one.
Our newly crowned Hammer of the year, but not one of his best games.
Another solid game in the centre, although there were one or two agricultural clearances.
A fairly quiet game, but more good experience.
Did more than anyone else going forward in the first half, but also displayed his stupid petulancy again.
Ran around a lot; achieved little.
Anonymous at best, and it's rare anyone says that about him!
Better in the second half, but still nothing like good enough.
The best of a bad bunch in midfield in the first half.
A willing worker starved of any service.
(Replaced Nolan) Did improve things, but still couldn't get beyond third gear.
(Replaced Amalfitano) Man of the Match.
(Replaced Noble) Tried as always, but couldn't lift us.
Did not play.
Joey O Brien
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, James Collins, Reece Burke, Morgan Amalfitano, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Enner Valencia.
Booked: Alex Song 72 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Aston Villa: Shay Given, Leandro Bacuna, Ron Vlaar, Jores Okore, Kieran Richardson, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley, Jack Grealish, Charles N’Zogbia, Christian Benteke.
Subs not used: Brad Guzan, Andreas Weimann, Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos.
Goals: Tom Cleverley (31).
Booked: Charles N’Zogbia (45).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Lee Mason.
Man of the Match: Nene.