Saturday, 8th November 2014
By coincidence we played Villa this time last year when the visiting supporters marred the wreath-laying ceremony by booing David Gold thanks to his Birmingham City connection. Thankfully there was no repeat of such behaviour and this year's ceremony and subsequent silence, punctuated only by the playing of the “Last Post” was impeccably observed. Very moving.
Team news was that we had virtually a full squad from which to choose. Sakho had recovered from his shoulder problem to resume his quest to break the odd goalscoring record and a certain Mr Carroll was fit to claim a place in the racing car seats, giving us a starting XI of Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Collins, Reid, Noble, Kouyate, Song, Downing, Valencia Sakho.
Bizarrely, the first chance of the match went to the visitors. Noble was a bit lazy with a pass which was intercepted by Agbonlahor who bore down on goal, passing a static Collins on the way. Villa have only scored five all season. Agbolahor's high and wide effort goes some way to explaining that statistic.
Things settled down a bit after that. We forced a corner which was taken by Downing who got dog's abuse from the visiting fans, who were reminded that he'd left because their team isn't very good, to paraphrase the chant. Downing's corner was placed pefecly for an unmarked Collins to put a powerful header in only for Guzan to save well down by the near post.
We started to control matters as one might have expected given the form of the two teams. Song's intelligent reverse pass out to Sakho on the right saw the striker play a dangerous ball low into the box and only Vlaar's excellent interception prevented Valencia from getting a tap-in. The resulting corner initially came to naught but good work from Cresswell and Song saw the latter feed Valencia on the left. The Ecuadorian got to the by-line and his cutback caused the Villa defence all sorts of problems. Collins eventually set up Noble whose goalbound shot was cleared from in front of goal by Baker.
You'll get the impression that it was pretty much one way traffic in the first half. And you'd be right. What few problems we had were usually self-inflicted, the prime example being the interaction between Reid and Adrian.
The Danish Kiwi's back pass had a bit too much on it for comfort and the 'keeper's control was far from convincing in front of goal. It could easily have been the sort of own goal that ends up on those cheap DVDs that, along with the sort of country & western compilation CDs by acts you've never heard of, seems to be the main stock in motorway service area shops. Thankfully it stayed out but neither player emerged from the incident with much credit.
Sakho had a chance to extend his run when Guzan came out of his goal to meet Cresswell's cross. Guzan was so far out he probably needed an extension to his oyster card. As it happened he never made it but Sakho's header dropped wide.
Sakho then got the better of Baker on the right. His cross was blocked but fell to Downing whose powerful effort brought another fine save out of Guzan who was already the visitors' sole relistic candidate for any MOTM awards. Any chance of keeping the momentum going was dashed by a baffling flag from the linesman. Call me old fashioned but I preferred it when a player had to actually be in an offside position to be given offside, a detail of the law that escaped the lino over by the chicken run on a number of occasions.
The visitors got away with two yellow card offences almost simultaneously. Vlaar cynically blocked Valencia's run whilst Downing was taken out by a crude off-the-ball challenge by N'Zogbia. The Vlaar foul was either not seen or ignored by the officials though play was called back for N'Zogbia's “challenge”. The ref had a word but clearly didn't trust his linesman enough to give the yellow on his say so.
As the resulting free-kick was played in Reid was climbed all over by Vlaar in a challenge that the ref would have given a free-kick for anywhere outside the box. Guzan had a pop at Reid for, er, being fouled while Moss dishonestly pretended not to have seen anything.
Villa then created a rare chance of their own as N'Zogbia burst into the box. Weimann made some room and hit a powerful shot straight at Adrian, the 'keeper parrying away. Agbonlahor's follow-up was blocked by Reid in almost Collins-esque fashion Westwood's hopeful volley from distance ended up in the crowd.
I first noted Agbonlahor's tendency to dive many years ago when he first appeared on the scene.. Sad to say that nobody at Villa seems to have had the honesty to have a word about it to him over the years. Song did stick out a leg but it got nowhere near the Villa striker though clearly hee thought two feet away was close enough to con the officials. He was right. N'Zogbia's free kick was cleared and Agbonlahor's eventual header dropped harmlessly wide.
After a scrappy spell we should have taken the lead. A good foot in from Cresswell saw Song feed Jenkinson. The full-back's ball inside as cleverly played on first time by Song to Downing who had acres of space. Unfortunately the England man had a bit of a rush of blood and put the ball high and wide into the stand hen he ought to have hit the target or possibly squared it to the unmarked Sakho.
After some light refreshments the second half started in the same manner to that in which the first had commenced. Villa had a chance created by a sloppy pass. Kouyate found only Agbonlahor who aid the ball off to the otherwise anonymous Cleverley who scooped the ball over from just outside the box.
That was our cue to push forward. Noble found Cresswell whose cross found Valencia who, however, could only play the ball back across the goal. Jenkinson picked up the loose ball and played a dangerous low cross into the box, Baker's desperate clearance preserving parity with Valencia primed.
The half was looking like a carbon copy of the first. Even the chances had a similarity with a Cresswell cross beig cleared as far as Valencia whose shot was blocked by Cishoko in identical style to the block by Baker on Noble's first half effort.
With about 65 played Nolan came on for the industrious Kouyate shortly before the first belated yellow of the day arrived. The caution, for Cleverley's challenge on Sakho, was swiftly followed by another as Weimann talked himself into the notebook.
With a quarter of an hour left we made our second swap with Cole replacing Valencia. Agbonlahor then finally dived once too often as Collins took the ball cleanly. The look of contempt on Collins' face as the striker rolled around in fake agony said it all. We pushed forward and a cross from Carlton Cole of all people found Sakho completely unmarked in the box, only for his header to go wide. Should have scored.
Downing, who had pushed out to the left, put another cross in only for Sakho's (admittedly more difficult) header to go wide once more. Frustration doesn't begin to even start to cover it. Guzan's timewasing at this point was pretty shameless – a whle minute to take a goal-kick not being uncommon. The ref did the usual tapping of watch thing but a caution might have been more effective in speeding things up.
The attacks were beginning to come in waves. A fine run from Downing saw a deflected cross headed back by Cole. Nolan was upended but Cole was adjudged to have handled. An easy free-kick to give if it's an attacker adjudged to have been at fault.
Westwood then threw the ball away at a free-kick as the time wasting got more desperate. No yellow of course. The ref plumbed new depths as Baker slid in and injured himself in a tackle on Cole that got nowhere near the ball. Cole shrugged off the foul – for that is what it was – and played the ball out wide only to hear the referee's whistle go. Quite how Cole got punished for the challenge you'd have to ask Mr Moss. In the meantime the next time someone asks for respect the referees show them the footage of that incident and ask them if they can find anything to respect in it because I'm damned if I can.
Agbonlahor finally got the yellow his diving had deserved for an off the ball callenge on Reid. He can feel a bit aggrieved as it was no different from N'Zogbia's earlier in the match but you'll have gathered that the knowledge of, and the consistent and fair application of the laws of the game is not Mr Moss's strong suit. As we were to find out to our cost at the death.
Chance after chance was being created. Nolan fed Downing whose cross fell to Jenkinson. The full back was not high on the list of those to whom you'd have wanted to see on the end of the cross, a suspicion borne out by his weak header straight at Guzan.
The addition of four minutes of stoppage was, frankly an insult to the intelligence. Baker's injury alone had taken up three minutes. There had also been a couple of substitutions. Guzan had been taking forever over goal kicks. All that watch tapping had therefore been just for show.
As stoppage started Carroll replaced Noble. Downing again did some fine stuff on the left and Carroll met the cross perfectly only to be thwarted by a splendid save from Guzan. It got rather hectic from there. Clark blocked Sakho's shot. Guzan punched the ball whilst appearing to be outside the box. The ball ended up going out for a corner.
Any hope that Moss might do something right went straight out of the window as a defender clearly palmed away Downing's corner and Song had his legs taken away from him in the aftermath. Carroll had a header saved by Guzan. Moss – whose penalty giving record has in the past been to give twice as many as the average referee - failed to do his duty once more. Presumably he was told to rein it in after the Man City v Spurs match. That shouldn't be our problem. Still as long as he went home in the right car no action will be taken against him of course.
That was about it. Last weekend we gained a point when we might arguably have been second best. This week we dropped two points when we were palpably the better side. There's no logic to this game is there? I was pleased to hear applause from the crowd at the end – it's not always been the case that the effort in a 0-0 draw gets recognised and the one thing that you couldn't fault the players on was effort for this one.
So we head into an international break in 4th place. That's two whole weeks of smugly asking Spurs fans whether they think they'll stay up. Let's just hope everyone gets back safely from the various parts of the world to which the squad will be scattering without picking up any injuries. I'm not sure I was even born when last we had a fully fit squad!
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
One dodgy moment in the first half. One meaningful save and I swear he didn't touch the ball in the last 20 minutes.
Not quite up to his recent standards – he delayed his crossing too many times enabling defenders to get back at him. Ought to have done better with the free header as well.
Better than last week – his crossing continues to cause problems to opposition defences.
One dodgy moment with the backpass to Adrian in the first half but dealt with the limited threat from the visitors well.
One silly moment in the second half where he seemed to lose his bearings but otherwise strong.
Worked hard throughout and, thanks to Roy Hodgson's bizarre case of myopia (have a look at the number of out of form players at struggling clubs in the England squad), has a nice couple of weeks to rest up in.
At the heart of much of what was good going forward in the first half but maybe a bit less so in the second.
Did a job but not as influential as he can be.
My MOTM – created chance after chance. Stay fit with England sir.
A bit subdued to be honest. A spot of transatlantic jetting is probably not quite what the doctor ordered.
Got into some good positions but was unusually wasteful for once.
(Replaced Kouyate) Quietly effective in holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
(Replaced Valencia) Caused different problems when coming on for Valencia. If I had a pound for every free kick given incorrectly against him over the years I could afford to employ somebody who can type.
(Replaced Noble) Wreaked havoc. Gives us another option when, like yesterday, we are chasing a game in the dying moments.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Man of the Match: Stewart Downing.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Mark Noble, Alex Song , Cheikhou Kouyate, Stewart Downing, Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho.
Booked: tbc .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Bradley Guzan, Matthew Lowton, Nathan Baker, Ron Vlaar, Aly Cissokho, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Westwood, Carlos Sanchez, Andreas Weimann, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Charles N'Zogbia.
Substitutes: Philippe Senderos (Nathan Baker 88), Ciaran Clark (Charles N'Zogbia 90+2).
Subs not used: Shay Given, Darren Bent, Leandro Bacuna, Joe Cole, Kieran Richardson.
Booked: Tom Cleverley (68), Andreas Weimann (68), Gabriel Agbonlahor (88).
Sent Off: None sent off..