Villa made step in the right direction in their relegation fight with a hard fought win over West Ham at Villa Park. Paul Lambert made a couple of changes to the side with Jordan Bowery coming in on the right hand side, Weimann tucking in behind Benteke and Delph in midfield. Also Nathan Baker was installed as left back to add height against a bigger West Ham side. Villa adopted a flat back four while West Ham experimented with 3 at the back.
Villa got off to the brighter start and should have snatched an early lead. Benteke had the ball out on the edge of the area where he did damage to Liverpool and West Brom, slightly to the left of goal. His shot wasn’t scorching, but Jääskeläinen in goal spilled the shot and Weimann should have easily poked the rebound home. The Austrian somehow curled his shot wide. It may have been a blessing in disguise as it could have woken the Hammers up. Instead they played on with an unusual lethargy for the remainder of the half.
Villa showed some nice touches. Good one touch football, they had been doing in pre-season. Bowery had some nice touches, also. However, he looked a little nervy at times and his lack of speed or strength was highlighted when Matty Taylor ran him down and easily nudged the big lad off the ball.
Second half showed immediately that Sam Allardyce had stirred his players and they set about Villa without hesitation. Villa couldn’t get away from its own defence. Bowery was losing the ball every time he got it. Delph was over running the ball whenever he had it. The Hammers were pulling Delph out of position, leaving Baker exposed at left back more and more. For ten minutes it was sheer pressure.
Finally, Lambert had had enough. On came Bent for Bowery although he took Weimann’s position up front. Newcomer Simon Dawkins came on for Weimann and went out to the left side, while N’zogbia moved to Bowery’s position.
Villa absorbed more pressure and Bent came to Villa’s rescue with a good defensive play on the line. Bent’s presence caused West Ham defenders more problems. Benteke had been quiet and now he found more space and time, this had a direct bearing on Villa’s 1st goal. Benteke had the ball on the right side of the area, stepped inside. He played the ball inside to N’zogbia. Zogs tried to beat Mark Noble who left his leg out and the former Wigan man needed no other invitation to collapse on the ground. It was a lot like Southampton’s penalty against us a few weeks ago except there was actual contact. BENTEKE stepped up and tickled the ball to his right as if Villa hadn’t a care in the world. His approach however had sent the keeper the wrong way.
Minutes later, Bent again showed his importance to the club. His back to the goal on the edge of the area, he felt a hard nudge in his back and hit the deck quickly. West Ham strongly disputed the free kick, but N’ZOGBIA didn’t care and hit a well struck free kick that Jääskeläinen didn’t get across to collect. Villa has scored quite a few goals over the years against the Finnish stopper, but he was having a torrid day.
The Hammers came at Villa again. It was beginning to look like they might not get through. Dawkins was looking pretty good on the wing, helping to kill the clock, how did Spurs release this lad and get him back for free again? The other January signing, Sylla came on for Zogs to help strengthen the defence, but that was the only time I noticed him in those waning minutes, possibly not that he did anything wrong, if he did anything, I just missed it.
At 87 minutes, it looked like Villa had weathered the storm, when a cross shot was met by Westwood who inadvertently put the ball past Guzan. Now it was going to be a nervous 3 minutes plus 4 minutes of added time. Why, 4 minutes? I have no clue.
Great work by Dawkins and Benteke down the left in the final seconds appeared to be enough to kill off the game, but the Hammers managed to get forward quickly and Guzan had to make two superb saves to keep the points.
There is a long way to go for Villa, who would love to somehow find a way to rob a point off Arsenal, but that doesn’t look on the cards. But, they do need to stop panicking.