Premier League
West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 1

Wednesday, 4th November 2009
by Gordon Thrower

Blimey! Itís never dull watching us is it?

Far be it for me to blow my own trumpet as it were but I did have a good feeling about this one. There were three changes from the side that started up at the Stadium of Light. I'd like to think that Parker would have replaced Kovac irrespective of the latter's ban. Faubert came in for Spector who looked uncomfortable on Saturday whilst Manuel Da Costa came in for Tomkins who had also had a tough time on Wearside. This left us with a starting line-up of Green, Faubert, Ilunga, Upson, Da Costa, Noble, Parker, Behrami, Collison, Franco.

The first incident of any note was the slightly late arrival of Upton Girlie and Tomas who had been delayed by some idiot running into the back of them. The word "Idiot" was even more appropriate on this occasion, the responsible driver being none other than irritating false cockney violinist Nigel Kennedy. Still hopefully the prang will send his insurance premiums through the roof.

On the pitch the consensus was that we'd had the proverbial bright start as both Noble and Collison got into promising positions without quite managing to fashion the space for a shot. Cole then got underneath one that was a bit closer than it looked like it was going to be, missing a couple of yards to the right.

Of course with West Ham you always know that something nasty is lurking around the corner and so it was. Ilunga went down the left and pulled up sharply holding the back of his thigh in the time-honoured manner given to footballers who have had a hamstring go. The physio strapped it up but it was immediately apparent to all that Cheri was to take no further part in the proceedings. Spector came on to replace him, slotting in as a straight replacement at left-back. Spector's first duty was to come on and help defend a corner. He didn't do so - there again neither did anyone else as the ball flashed across the six yard box and out the other side for a goal kick.

Noble then combined with Collison to cut in and Friedel had to be alert down by his near post.

Villa had forced a corner or two though the one conceded on 19 minutes was needlessly conceded, with Faubert getting an attempted back-pass totally wrong. Da Costa cleared the corner as far as Petrov whose volley was superb. Not quite as superb, however, as the flying tipover by Green, which was possibly even better than it looked coming as it did off a slight deflection. Not a bad save to make in front of the England boss.

Cole went up the other end and his good work was undermined by a cross that was only slightly too high for Franco. By now the game was warming up and Agbonglahor got away from Upson to launch a fierce drive that was again tipped over by Green, though this save had a degree more comfort about it. Agbonglahor then got on the end of a Young cross only to head well over.

Then things got worse. Cole went after another overhit Faubert cross and pulled up holding the back of his thigh in the time-honoured manner given to footballers who have had a hamstring go. Cole immediately signalled to the bench that further participation in the game would be a non-starter, a diagnosis confirmed by the physio shortly after. Thus it was that with barely half an hour on the clock we'd used two substitutes and were without a player who had been at the top of his form. The pre-match optimism was looking a bit thin at this point.

The mood dropped somewhat as Villa went forward. Da Costa allowed Carew to turn on the edge of the six-yard box and Green got down well to save the shot. However, as half time loomed it was us who broke the deadlock. Franco's through ball found Hines on the left and the youngster was brought down from behind by Beye, I've now had the opportunity to watch the incident on a replay and, in spite of Scott Minto's ignorant ramblings, I have to say that ref Bennett - who otherwise had a poor match - got this one right. Though Beye did eventually get something of the ball his initial contact was a shove in the back followed by contact with the player's left leg and if you go through a player like that it's a foul. Not that this stopped copious amounts of moaning from the visitors. The yellow card was probably correct too - Hines' position on the left hand side of the box meant whatever goalscoring opportunity had been denied it was, arguably, not an obvious one.

After a mercifully brief delay - O'Neill hasn't instilled the "five-minute stall" as part of his team's tactics - Noble stepped up to the plate and, mindful of the fact that he owed us a penalty or two, buried the ball into the roof of the net with a powerful drive that sent Friedel the wrong way to send us 1-0 up. Ref Bennett finally booked Ashley Young who had been moaning all game before the half-time whistle went, though that wasn't the end of the yellow card action at that point, Collins also receiving a caution for something said on the way to the tunnel before O'Neill and his staff could shepherd their players into the sanctuary of the visitors' changing room.

Villa made one change at the interval, with Heskey being withdrawn for Nigel Reo Coker. It was interesting to contrast the different receptions given to Ginge and NRC, Ginge receiving warm applause in recognition of his loyal service and kind comments whilst NRC was reminded that it's not the greatest idea to slag off your former club and its supporters if that club is West Ham.

The early exchanges saw a rarity for the Boleyn since everything was moved back from the pitch. Da Costa put the ball into touch. He made sure as well, the ball sailing over the top of the Chicken Run stand and, after a bounce or two, out of the ground. It wasn't quite as much fun as the sadly rare will it-won't it lottery of the gutter ball that used to happen a lot more regularly but it still raised a laugh.

Bennett was causing concern though. He's one of those weak refs who tries to even things up in the event of controversy and boy did he do so. Faubert gave away a corner on the Villa left the ball was headed out then back in again. Da Costa's leap was towering and the header superb. Bennett didn't see it that way and, because Collins was stationed somewhere near Da Costa, Bennett gave a penalty. It was one of the worst decisions I've ever seen - and with the moron Hackett in charge of refereeing standards there has been a lot of competition for that title. The word "unbelievable" doesn't begin to cover what a poor decision that was. Thankfully, Young stepped up and Green made yet another save from what hadn't been the best of penalties and justice had been done. A bit of a scramble ensued from the following corner but Green pounced on the loose ball to put an end to the referee-inspired danger.

The game by this time was quite open. Hines, who was looking lively, burst down the left and pulled the ball back for Collison but the ball was slightly behind the Wels youngster and clipped his heel to safety. Parker then burst forward, his shot from distance sailing wide of the right hand post. Parker then picked up his obligatory yellow for a late clip on Young who, for once, had actually been touched for the foul. Young's free-kick was rotten and curled straight into the hands of Green.

Unfortunately Young's luck changed for the better a minute or two later. Carew's return from an offside position was missed by the officials but as he laid off the ball to Young there seemed little danger. Young will probably claim that his over-hit cross was a deliberate shot - he's that sort of player. Whatever the intention the ball sailed over Green into the top corner to restore parity.

Bennett was, by now, displaying little evidence of ever having been acquainted with the plot, giving corners instead of goal-kicks, throw-ins the wrong way and, on one occasion when Hines had been pulled back by a defender, giving the free-kick against Hines for having his shirt pulled. Despite Bennett the game was warming up nicely. Faubert got into the box and played a tantalising ball in towards the far post that took touches off two Villa defenders as Parker slid in. We then had the comedy "handball" hour with Upson's thigh being deemed to form part of the arm by the visiting support. The handball shouts were added to those of "corner" every time we were given a goal-kick. And chants of "how much they paying you?" every time Bennett got something else wrong. That one got sung a lot.

In amongst the ref baiting, Hines was looking livelier and livelier and, capitalising on some loose play by the defence, he got himself into the left hand side of the box before placing his shot wide. He was a little bit closer when sent through again on the left by Collison, Hines shot going across the face of the goal, much to the frustration of Collison who had continued his run and was in good position in the box had Hines been able to find the pass.

Hines again was close to restoring the lead with ten minutes left. Parker's strong run saw a lob into the box which came back out to Parker. Parker played the ball out right and Hines used the defender as a shield for his powerful near-post shot that Friedel had to be aware of to turn out for a corner.

Franco was next into the book for a tired late lunge on Carew. Agbonglahor was allowed to get in at the back but put a difficult first time shot high into the crowd. Then another moment of controversy. Spector beat Beye to the ball but was upended. The ball however went through to Noble who was in a promising position. The laws of the game say advantage should be played unless the offence warrants an expulsion - which, I suppose indirectly it did, the card being Beye's second. However, the offence itself was only a yellow card, something that could easily have waited until the next stoppage. Beye took an eternity to walk off, despite the frantic beckoning from his manager. A word from the fourth official looked as if a trip to FA HQ for failure to leave the pitch promptly might appear in Beye's diary sooner rather than later.

The free-kick was cleared as far as Parker who made some space for himself before shooting harmlessly wide. Villa decided that, with 10 men, they needed to withdraw a striker to bolster things defensively and Carew came off to be replaced by Luke Young. Obviously O'Neill didn't see the DVD's of the Fulham or Sunderland match. The ten-man thing was worrying us in our part of the ground. Still it was only for four minutes.

We pushed forward and it took a fine save from Friedel to keep out Noble's 30 yard effort. Franco then almost got on the end of a pass from the left, just failing to make the connection count. It was the General's last effort of the day, Jiminez replacing him with three left on the clock.

Jim's first involvement was to play a nice flick down the line to send in Hines who won a corner. Jim's second involvement was to take the corner and a dreadful one it was at that, a short effort that gave Noble no chance and the ball eventually rebounding for a goal kick.

As we entered stoppage time Villa won a corner that was cleared as far as Ashley Young whose low shot was tipped round the post by Green for another fine save. With the corner cleared Upton Girlie decided that it was time to go - young Tomas was beginning to flag and, it being a school night with a day of sport to follow a sharp exit was required. This goes against the grain for me - I'm one of those who stays to the bitter end whatever. In my case it's a matter of wanting my money's worth. We elected for a very slow departure towards the exit in the hope that out timing would enable us to reach the stairs just as the ref blew for full time. Good call.

With little more than two of the four allotted minutes of stoppage left we pushed forward. Collison's dangerous looking cross eluded everyone and was cleared as far as Spector who fed Noble, who fed Parker. Parker burst into the box and fed Hines who, surrounded by three defenders somehow managed to have the footwork to shift the ball from left to right, gaining enough space to dig the ball past Friedel to send the crowd wild. It was a superb finish in tight circumstances and grin that the lad had on his face was as wide as the gap between Bennet's ears.

We saw out the remainder of stoppage without further ado and it was a happy gang that head off towards the Barking road, safely reaching the Upton Girliemobile before the idiot Kennedy had a chance to do any further damage to it. Even the Blackwall tunnel was clear as I reached Gnome Towers in time to see the highlights.

It had been a fine game of football that, on our second half performance, I thought we deserved to win. It was, I suppose given recent other matches, a good thing that the sending-off came so late - I'd have hated us to have capitulated to ten men again. The win takes us up three places and will do wonders for the team's confidence. The one downer of the evening was of course the injuries to Ilunga and, in particular Cole. Cole has been outstanding this season and it is to be hoped that his injury isn't as serious as was first thought. Still we've proved we can win without him so let's hope that thought sticks with the players.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Some fine saves - the one from Petrov in the first half was different class. Given England's history in penalty shoot-outs must be a cert for South Africa.

Julien Faubert
Looked better going forward though his crossing still leaves a lot to be desired.

Herita Ilunga
Injured before he got going.

Manuel Da Costa
Good solid debut. Won a hell of a lot in the air - even if Bennett does seem to think that that's an offence.

Matthew Upson
Looked happier this week, possibly as a result of having Da Costa alongside him.

Scott Parker
A fine game. Did the box-to-box thing all night and his run into the box set up Hines for the winner.

Mark Noble
Much better than of late. He looked lively and Friedel's save was the only thing that stopped him doubling his tally.

Jack Collison
Another who is returning to form. Needs to have a look at his footwear though - I lost count of the number of times he slipped over during the match.

Valon Behrami
Got through another seven miles or so tonight. Looks nearer full fitness.

Guillermo Franco
Battled gamely on despite rarely causing much in the way of threat.

Carlton Cole
Was looking dangerous until his untimely exit. I'm torn between wanting him back ASAP - doing the usual thing of rushing players back too soon - and letting him rest up until he's fully recovered. Still our physios know what they're doing. Don't they?


Jonathan Spector
(Replaced Ilunga, 8 mins) Looked better now he seems to have lost his allergy to crossing the halfway line.

Zavon Hines
(Replaced Cole, 30 mins) Outstanding. Caused Villa problems the second he was introduced. His work for the winner was superb.

Luis Jimenez
(Replaced Franco, 88 mins) Not on for long enough to make a major impact. One good touch. One terrible one.

Peter Kurucz
Did not play.

James Tomkins
Did not play.

Junior Stanislas
Did not play.

Alessandro Diamanti
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, Manuel Da Costa, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Valon Behrami, Guillermo Franco, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Mark Noble 45 Zavon Hines 90                .

Booked: Scott Parker 51 Guillermo Franco 84        .

Sent off: None.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Beye, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Sidwell, A Young, Petrov, Heskey, Agbonlahor, Carew.

Subs not used: Guzan, Shorey, Albrighton, Delph, Delfouneso.

Goals: A Young (51).

Booked: Beye (45+2), Collins (45+3), A Young (45+3), Petrov (68).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Steve Bennett.

Attendance: 30,024.

Man of the Match: Zavon Hines.