West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 1
Sunday, 13th March 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
It was backing to winning ways for West Ham this Sunday afternoon, a controlled 2-1 victory over Aston Villa their reward for a fine performance.In a game West Ham had dominated, it was an emotional moment to break the deadlock as substitute Andriy Yarmolenko scored with a wonderful finish halfway through the second half. The stadium had stood to applaud the Ukrainian, but it was his goal that sent the stadium into raptures, and ended with the winger in tears after scoring.
A late Villa goal pegged The Hammers back after Fornals had scored his side?EUR(TM)s second, but it was a victory that came at a cost. Both Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell were forced off with injuries, though the team should take huge credit for scoring two goals with none of Antonio, Bowen or set-piece specialist Cresswell on the pitch.
There was one change from the defeat in Spain on Thursday, Benrahma?EUR(TM)s sparkling substitute performance earning him a starting place over Nikola Vlasic.
It was a game that David Moyes?EUR(TM) side really did control, brushing off the midweek trip to Sevilla and moving their focus back to domestic matters in the Premier League. That defeat only three days earlier could well have hit the team?EUR(TM)s morale, so their performance from the off here was all the more impressive.
It felt, even more than usual, that the play was pinned to the left side of West Ham?EUR(TM)s attack. Benrahma and Cresswell saw much of the ball, but really combine to create clear chances. Benrahma got an early shot away after a clever nutmeg by Cresswell.
Antonio inevitably drifted over to help, and his direct running soon created an opening for Fornals on the edge of the box, but his effort was dragged wide.
Villa put more effort into their time wasting than their attacking play, but as West Ham toiled down the left, the lack of cutting edge to go with their endeavour could always go punished. Thankfully, Gerrard?EUR(TM)s Aston Villa are not on the level of Liverpool and Sevilla.
Ramsey created a chance for Ings bursting into the area, the young English midfielder excellent in darting into the box and daring defenders to challenge him, but his ball could only force a blocked shot and a corner.
In a half punctuated by Villa players feigning injury and breaking up West Ham?EUR(TM)s rhythm whenever possible, the home team dominated.
With domination, there was little in the way of openings. Benrahma struggled to create good delivery with the space he worked to make, whilst the static support of Cresswell and Antonio often made it easy for Villa to settle back into shape.
There was half a chance for Soucek, heading wide when stooping down to meet a Cresswell cross, but otherwise the away team were happy to absorb the pressure and defend their area. Anyone hoping to see Philippe Coutinho dazzle was disappointed, the Brazilian long lost in the pocket of Rice until he dropped so deep as to be no threat at all.
The sides went in at the break level, West Ham again a touch concerned that concerted pressure could not be turned into goals, but surely happy with their control. Whilst there is a gap to the midtable group beneath them, a win for Villa here would trim the gap to six points with a game in hand.
Early in the second half, Antonio went down off the ball. Having made a sliding challenge up the pitch, the striker was treated on the pitch, his hamstrings stretched out. He soon returned to the pitch, but for a minute at most.
Off he went, replaced to rapturous applause by Yarmolenko. Football?EUR(TM)s script writers have dreamed up some classics, but could the Ukrainian benefit from the narrative.
It was moments later that Villa had the best chance of the game, a low corner bouncing around the box until it fell to Ings. He snapped a shot at goal, saved low to Fabianski?EUR(TM)s right. The Pole got down well to turn it onto the post, and then was as relieved as everyone else as it bounced back into his outstretched arms.
Soon Cresswell was down too, replaced by Fredericks as Johnson crossed to the opposite flank.
A word here for Johnson too, who again produced a completely unflustered and commanding defensive performance, but lacked the confidence going forward to make the most of the space afforded to him. The full back made more darting runs down the left than he did the right, appearing more assured on the front foot when on his weaker side.
With the only recognised striker forced off, Bowen injured and Cresswell?EUR(TM)s delivery now gone too, a team that has been struggling to score was now without its most potent weapons.
There was half an hour to play, could West Ham continue to dominate this game and work out a different way to score?
A Fornals corner found Zouma?EUR(TM)s head and forced a great save from Martinez, but he could only push it out to the middle. Dawson got up immediately, but couldn?EUR(TM)t get over it and headed high and wide. It was the first big chance of the half for The Hammers and so soon after the injuries, a moment to encourage the players that this game was there to be won.
About ten minutes later, the goal everyone wanted was scored by the man everyone wanted to score.
It was a Dawson pass that opened the game up, one of many the centre back played throughout the game that belied everything you would say about him. It was a fired, raking pass out to the left wing and Benrahma used Johnson?EUR(TM)s run down the outside to create space.
The defenders split and Benrahma reacted sharply, flicking in a pass to Yarmolenko in the box, the kind of direct ball that this team often chooses not to play.
What Yarmolenko then did was the class of a goalscorer, a high level goalscorer with years of experience taking chances.
A quick touch to control with his right flicked it into the air, and then he spun in one movement to strike it on the bounce and into the far corner before Martinez could even think about preparing for a save. It was sudden, it was instinctual and it was a goal that ended in tears for the Ukrainian. Frankly, how does a match report sum up not only the outrageous skill, but the emotion, the turmoil and the incredible attitude, strength and character of the man?
Villa had nothing in response. Ings was withdrawn for Buend?-a, and then Bailey came on for Luiz as Gerrard rolled the dice.
His side pushed forward, and that created space to play. Turnovers in possession suddenly gave West Ham an opportunity to spring forward.
There was little happening until Rice saw his opening. The captain has been deeper in recent games, back to the shielding role that has really seen him develop as an elite player.
It does leave him making less of the eye catching runs, but the team looks more secure and Soucek is more comfortable roaming and making darts into the box.
Here though, it was the marauding runner that stepped out, nicking the ball and then bursting forwards, making a mockery of McGinn as he used a little skip to dart past him with ease.
Benrahma was ahead in space and Rice slid the ball forward into the left channel, the Algerian taking it down the side of the area and passing across perfectly into the path of Fornals?EUR(TM) run towards the penalty spot.
The Spaniard kept his cool to pass the ball round Mings and through a weak hand from Martinez to give the home side a commanding 2-0 lead.
There was still time for a Villa goal, Ramsey finishing well from the edge of the box after the ball was cut back to him. The referee, weak throughout, found opportunities to push the away side forward, but there wasn?EUR(TM)t enough left in the tank to threaten and West Ham went away with all three points.
It was a big win, coming off two 1-0 defeats and what must have been a difficult loss to take away in Europe. There is still a lot to do in the league, whether the Champions League qualification spots feel too far off. European football for a second successive season is the target, one this side deserves to meet, to help the club progress and reward them for their work once more.
In the end, it felt unimportant. The emotion of that goal, the sight of Yarmolenko on the turf at the final whistle, exhausted and overcome by the emotional effort, was the memory that will remain.
David Moyes 8/10
Made the right changes from the bench, especially the use of Yarmolenko. And putting Benrahma in from the start was absolutely the right choice and he was vindicated.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
There were a couple of those moments where a more proactive goalkeeper may come get the ball, but otherwise Fabianski was calm and commanding in goal, making one very good save and smothering another chance late on.
It seems to only be confidence holding Johnson back from becoming a complete full back. A touch more bravery on the ball and it would be hard to see Coufal coming back in. He defends superbly and is rarely worried.
Cresswell was on 51 passes when he went off with 35 minutes to go, a handful less than both Lanzini and Rice finished on. That?EUR(TM)s how much time the ball spent pinned to the left and how much they overplayed there. Too static for Benrahma to use as a decoy or an attacking passing option.
The better defender of the two. Not making play from the back like Frank Dawsonbauer, but he?EUR(TM)s clearly the best and most assured player in that defence.
In a game where the centre backs were rarely tested, it?EUR(TM)s Dawson?EUR(TM)s passing that stands out. He managed Watkins well, using some crafty and experienced old tactics to stop him using his pace to expose Dawson. But the passes, Craig. The passes.
Not a performance that makes the back pages, but the team looks better with him that little bit deeper, spotting danger and starting attacks. And it doesn?EUR(TM)t mean the runs have to be stopped, as showed with the second goal, but they aren?EUR(TM)t to be forced or relied upon.
It just works much better with Soucek getting up and down, the freedom to defend from the front and get into the box, with the energy to get back and be part of a low block. No grace, not as assured on the ball, but useful for the team.
Took his goal very well, a smart finish and no messing about. And that?EUR(TM)s a positive change. Doesn?EUR(TM)t influence play as much from the right, whilst his lack of pace makes an attack of him and Johnson quite functional. But also very secure, so it balances that well.
I?EUR(TM)ll allow the more cynical analyst with the rewatch to take apart his negatives, I?EUR(TM)ll stick to the positives. He got a lot of the ball down the left, and he didn?EUR(TM)t always use it well. But he often had Cresswell standing still, Antonio too far from goal and the expectation to beat one or two before finding a perfect ball on his weaker side. When the game opened up, he burst into life and made two goals. And he really made them, the pass to Yarmolenko direct and precise, after creating space well to open it up, and the pass for Fornals?EUR(TM) goal almost forcing the Spaniard to attack the space he should be. He gets a lot of criticism, but considering the frustration around this attack not making the right decisions up top, his two incisive ones won the game.
Not a standout game for Manu. Just kept things ticking over, knitting the midfield together and allowing Soucek to bomb about.
It might not have been a game Calum Chambers enjoyed, but he will go home happy with the job he did against Antonio. And Calum Chambers is not a very good centre back. Antonio was too happy getting involved in the passing down the left, which only gave less targets to actually hit when Cresswell and Benrahma did make space. Considering how hard it felt to get that space, seeing Antonio so close was a frustration. His individual play was quite sharp and he had promising moments, but nothing of real note before the injury. It would be a surprise now were he to make the second leg.
(Replaced Antonio, 52) The goal was a moment that will be remembered for a long time, and one of absolute class too. His technical skills have never been in doubt, but he hasn't had the graft that typifies this West Ham side. But you would trust him to have the ice in his veins to take big chances, big chances that we have missed lately. His passing was smart too, maybe he fits as a striker in this team because he can be a dangerous penalty box player without changing the dynamic of the way West Ham play. And the turmoil, the emotion, just everything going on. It's remarkable, truly.
(Replaced Cresswell, 57) He did his job relatively comfortably. Not a performance that is easy to remember even a few hours after the game. He certainly did play.
(Replaced Benrahma, 87) Barely involved.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ben Johnson, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Andriy Yarmolenko 70 Pablo Fornals 81 .
Booked: Manuel Lanzini 45 .
Sent off: None.
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne (Young 10), Douglas Luiz (Buendia 79), McGinn, Ramsey, Coutinho, Watkins, Ings (Bailey 69).
Subs not used: Olsen, Konsa, Sanson, Chukwuemeka, Iroegbunam, Traore.
Goals: Ramsey (89).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Jarred Gillett.
Man of the Match: Andriy Yarmolenko.