West Ham United 1 Aston Villa 1
Sunday, 12th March 2023
by Chris Wilkerson
It was a frustrating point at home for The Hammers this Sunday, an entertaining but tight game with Unai Emery's Aston Villa ending 1-1.The visitors took an early lead through the in-form Ollie Watkins, but a penalty put away by Benrahma levelled the game in the first half. There were chances and half-chances as the game wore on, yet neither side really took the attacking initiative with any conviction.
In the end, it came as no surprise that two conservative managers like Emery and Moyes would share the points, and probably both come away happy with how their sides nullified the opposition.
It became a very typical game that of needing magic or a mistake. For West Ham, their inspiration came from the flanks, with both Bowen and Benrahma having good games and outshining their opposing full back with some ease.
But there were little in the way of clear chances, a draw feeling a fair, if frustrating result.
Moyes made changes from the galling defeat at Brighton, with Thilo Kehrer returning at right back and Kurt Zouma making his comeback in the centre of defence.
The Villains lined-up similarly to West Ham, with Buendia drifting in off the left flank and Bailey holding a touch wider on the right. Ramsey was more notably forward from the middle than West Ham's midfield three.
The entertainment in the early stages came from the chess being played in possession. Villa wanted West Ham to fully commit to a high press, but Moyes's side were happy to just stand and let Martinez have the ball and stay in their mid-block, moving sharply once he played forward.
There was a half chance for Aguerd from a good Rice freekick around the fifth minute, whilst West Ham's territorial dominance created a slither of an opening for Benrahma when Bowen beat Moreno down the flank, after a delightful Aguerd ball, but the cross was volleyed high and wide as Benrahma came onto it at pace.
It had been a comfortable start for The Hammers, but Aston Villa are a team performing well away under Emery because they're patient, relatively solid and look to soak up pressure and pounce.
So it should not have been a complete surprise that they would take the lead without really showing any threat.
On their first attack, Moreno was allowed to wander forward into acres of space on the left. Under little pressure having taken it forward, he delivered an inch-perfect cross behind the defence, which was met with a subtle and brilliant header by Watkins.
His touch diverted it towards goal, headed down and bouncing into the far corner with a lovely glance, Areola unable to get anywhere near it from 10 yards out.
The question marks will be raised over how Moreno got the space, how he was allowed to continue without pressure and how Watkins won his header.
It is hard to tell where the problems on the flank are instruction or error. It appears to be an area we allow crosses from, at times, with full backs in many games not pushing out to the cross. So if the winger isn't there, full backs will get time. With Buendia rarely eager to threaten down the flank, Kehrer should have been passing him off to someone else and moving forward, but then if that's not the instructions, it's not going to happen.
The header itself just looked to be won by a smart run and a perfect cross. Sometimes defenders will get beaten, they can't know when and where the run or the cross will be.
Whatever the answers, West Ham had fallen behind just before the 20th-minute.
Thankfully, it didn't take long to get level.
Villa looked confident after they scored and had started to play with some swagger.
But that allowed more space, and Bowen was the one to take advantage. The goal itself would come a little after, but Bowen's initial contribution should not be forgotten.
He beat two down the right to win a corner, completely unflustered as they tried to double-up on him. It was a long run and another example of just how much better he was than Moreno.
Bowen fired in the corner, another of the recent ones that West Ham seemed to now be aiming on top of goalkeepers in a packed area.
Martinez flapped it into the air, the ball falling out to Paqueta, who did well to volley into the ground and other the wall of players in front of him.
Watkins headed off the line, but when it came back to the Brazilian, Bailey was too eager to close him down, and he collided legs with Paqueta, who fell to the ground and was rightly awarded a penalty.
It was up to Benrahma to take, and the Algerian was not to be distracted by Emi Martinez in the Villa goal. For Argentina, he went down in folklore as a World Cup winner last year, his antics effective, if crude. Benrahma was not too be put off, smashing the ball with some power into the rough of the net as the goalkeeper went flying to a corner. It was 1-1, and the West Ham fans found their voices again.
The players and the fans needed that gift, confidence is as fragile within the team as it is in the stands.
It settled both down, but the game remained tight. Zouma had half a chance, failing to stretch far enough to meet a good Benrahma cross, and then moments later making a big block at the other end to smother a chance when Watkins had space. Had he not been there, Watkins was in the box with a very good opportunity.
There was a warming applause for the late Dylan Tombides on the 38th-minute, marking what would have been his 29th birthday on Wednesday.
And then just before half-time, Watkins had the best chance of the game. A move down the left saw Moreno, for once, cut in on his right. It opened up space, and he found a pass to Ramsey, who instantly flicked it on to Watkins on the six-yard line.
Areola had gone across his goal, and he dived across in as much hope as expectation as Watkins passed the ball at goal, surely to score from so close.
But he focused little on where he hit it, and Areola's dive was enough to take the ball into his midriff and make an important save from point-blank range.
At 1-1 at half time, neither side could complain, and both managers will have seen enough to be encouraged by.
Into the second half, there was a quick chance for Benrahma off a Paqueta cross, a tough one dropping from a looping cross, although one the Algerian could have done better with.
He was lively in both halves, and West Ham and Benrahma benefitted from a tweak at half time. Villa had played a high line in the first half, but West Ham struggled to punish the space behind. Ings lacks pace, which helped Mings and Konsa stay high. But Benrahma and Bowen do not, and West Ham were dangerous when going quick to the pair.
Zouma's passing was good, whilst Aguerd's diagonal balls are even better. Villa were compact in the middle, but allowed the centre backs time to play their passes.
One of the better ones saw Zouma find Benrahma, the Algerian taking a fantastic first touch inside and hammering an effort on goal, Martinez throwing up a hand just in time to tip the ball over.
Whilst Benrahma was consistently able to make some space to shoot from the edge, that was the most he really threatened, and the game began to drift in this middle period of the second half.
Villa made changes, but didn't really find any way to dominate the game, and it was relatively incident free until Rice lost the ball on the edge of his own box and then challenged Buendia.
The Argentine went down - and stayed down - with desperate Villa appears for a penalty.
Rice protested wildly, and he had already looked far too frustrated with his own mistake when challenging Buendia. Suddenly, the handbags were out, mainly from Rice going back to the Argentine and shouting something in his face as he lay prone in the box.
VAR had checked, the penalty was not to be given, but all the pushing had come out. Buendia was, unsurprisingly, fine. Of more concern was that Rice had made a risky challenge and only flicked the ball, seemingly reacting in annoyance to his own mistake.
There is something about his body language when things aren't going well that belies his age. It is great that he does care so much, and that he has high standards, but he needs to keep his cool. It's not just the way it affects his play, but the message it sends as a captain. Cooler heads need to prevail in this fight.
Paqueta then lunged into a silly tackle in the middle of the park, getting needlessly booked. With the work required and the battle that could continue with just under 15 minutes remaining, he was soon replaced by Fornals.
The Brazilian stormed down the tunnel without acknowledging his substitute or manager, but did return soon after. Hopefully that was either due to a problem or was quickly apologised for.
There were two half-chances as the last ten minutes ticked on. First for Fornals, after Bowen beat Digne - who had replaced Moreno - on the flank and cut into the box on the line. Ings made the dart to the far post for the ball across goal, but Bowen chose to pull it back to Fornals. Unfortunately, the ball was behind the Spaniard, who could dig out a desperate swing to meet it.
A couple minutes later, Kehrer's cross from the right found Benrahma, but his volley was just blocked by Young and went wide.
With five minutes left, Cornet was thrown on for Ings. Scamacca stood in hope, ready in his kit and hoping to be calling upon, but the manager chose the returning Ivorian.
It was the right call at that time, Cornet's pace did cause problems with the runs behind. The problem was he could never hold those runs or time them, and he was offside more than a player should be in a late cameo.
As the time hit 90, Villa had the final chance. A corner was flicked on at the near post by Konsa and flew straight to Duran on his own in the middle of goal, eight yards out. To be fairer, it flew straight at him rather than to him, and the striker did well to adjust his feet to even poke it goalwards. Thankfully, Areola was across to save.
And so the points were shared, which was enough, at least, to move West Ham out of the bottom three after wins for Everton and Bournemouth the day before. It's only goal difference, but it keeps them in 17th.
They will be frustrated, but a tough game deserved to end level. At least Forest and Palace lost, whilst Leeds and Southampton could only pick up a point each, too.
The ride isn't slowing down, and now West Ham have a long break from Premier League action with the FA Cup recommencing and the international break ahead. Just to finish off AEK Larnaca first.
David Moyes 6/10
It is hard to be too annoyed by the decisions he made. Johnson probably a better choice than Kehrer? Sure, but he wasn't good last week. Soucek off for Fornals or Lanzini? Maybe, but Rice wasn't shining and the midfield being lost would have turned the game completely. Scamacca? Well, his post-match comments were right, Scamacca would not have made anything of the space in behind, and the Italian's attitude has looked poor on the pitch, let alone rumblings off it.
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Player RatingsAlphonse Areola
Nothing he could do about the goal, but better on corners today and then made a massive save from close range against Watkins, and his movement and positioning made the late stab at goal by Duran into a nothing chance. Had he been too static, that could have just been poked in.
Reasonably calm and precise with the ball, but the odd moment where he stormed forward out of position to where the ball was, but he could not get, and left space for the wide runner to use. Questions over whether he could have got out to Moreno on the cross, but it appeared he was sticking deep in those areas consistently, so it looked an error in design. It's happened to multiple right backs this season.
Struggled with Traore, but did a good job on Bailey. Didn't really have the impact going forward he'd have liked, but it bodes well that he can have a solid game on the back foot.
The defence looks better for Zouma being back. He does all those basics you get from Ogbonna, but he's a bit better at them all, and has more to his game. Staying up may well come down to the fitness of Zouma.
Could have done better on Watkins for the goal, but sometimes a perfect cross finds a run and a defender has little chance. The defence generally marshalled the Villa front line well, with Bailey and Buendia struggling to have any influence and Watkins mostly quiet. His passing was very good.
A couple sloppy moments could have been really costly. The midfield was controlled well, Buendia couldn't influence from inside and Ramsey was a non-entity, but there were a few times when he just seemed to have lost concentration, and he reacts emotionally to mistakes. That said, he is judged by higher standards, which comes with his level of ability.
Solid, if unspectacular, he does some good defensive work in both halves, but made no impact as an attacking option. Leaves a real quandary, because that hard work is important, and he has nous the options to replace him just lack, but he doesn't look like scoring and doesn't create.
Was quietly good until he got booked, and then it felt a risk to keep him on. He was always going to be replaced once it happened, and it was a needless yellow. He has a habit of picking those up. But he was doing well on the ball from box-to-box, won the penalty and created chances.
A constant threat, and whilst in some games those long shots can be frustrating, they were not only well aimed today, they were often the best option. Ings never got or made the space with his runs, so Benrahma was getting long balls, taking them down and having to make something himself because the midfield was coming from deeper to get there.
Bowen beat Moreno time and again with ease, and had there been better support in the middle, he'd have created more. It ended up with Ings making a run on his own, and Benrahma at the far post. Had West Ham worked out earlier that long diagonals would expose Villa's line, Bowen may well have been the one to profit.
Would have wanted to make an impact against his former team, but didn't. Mings defended him with comfort, with his beating in a foot race, in the air and smart enough to read his game. Were Cornet fitter or Scamacca in any sort of form, he'd have been hooked earlier, and probably should have been anyway.
(Replaced Paqueta 77) Struggled to really get involved, and should have made something of what would have been his first touch.
(Replaced Ings 86) Inzaghi would have been impressed by Cornet's ability to run offside. It is good to see the manager knows that option, and a fit Cornet would definitely suit this side more than Ings does. Now he has a few weeks to get there. It's a harsh score, as he looked the right sub and was lively, but he couldn't time a run.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Thilo Kehrer, Emerson Palmieri, Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Lucas Paqueta, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Danny Ings.
Goals: Said Benrahma 26 .
Booked: Lucas Paqueta .
Sent off: None.
Aston Villa: Martínez, Cash (Young 80), Konsa, Mings, Moreno (Digne 64), Douglas Luiz, Ramsey, McGinn, Buendia (Duran 80), Bailey (Traore 64), Watkins (Chambers 85).
Subs not used: Olsen, Sisisalo, Carlos.
Goals: Watkins (17).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh.
Man of the Match: .