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West Ham United v Aston Villa - Match Preview

Filed: Friday, 15th April 2011
By: Preview Percy

He was away last week at a birthday celebration - apparently some of his jokes are now nearly 100 years old. And so is he. He is Preview Percy. Sorry no refunds.....

Next up we entertain Aston Villa in a 3pm kick-off at the Boleyn. District Line? Hammersmith & City Line? Forget it.

The visitors are noteworthy for being fellow wearers of claret and blue. The story goes that one of our old players won a set of Villa kit as the result of a bet over a sprint race. Lovely though this tale of olden times is, it is, I’m afraid, almost certainly a load of old tosh. Shame really – it would be nice to think that there once might have been an era where we had players blessed with genuine pace.

The visitors come to the Boleyn on the back of some stuttering form having won two(4-1 at home to Blackburn and 1-0 at home to Newcastle), drawn two (1-1 at Blackpool and 2-2 at Everton) and lost two (3-2 at Bolton and 1-0 at home to Wolves) of their last six. This has left them in 14th place with 37 points, which is five points and four places clear of our good selves. On the road they’ve won one drawn lost two and drawn three of their last six, their last win coming at Wigan back in January.

They are managed by Gerard Houllier, though their current flirtation with the nether regions of the top flight has seen much dissatisfaction amongst the natives, many of whom seem to be in favour of an early departure for the Frenchman who must be seeing parallels with his later days in charge at Anfield where his tactics were similarly castigated by the home support. It’s hard to believe that 30 years ago Villa were in the process of winning the European Cup – back when you had to actually win the league to enter the thing. Liverpool and Man Utd were so shocked that they eventually set up the Premier League and Champions League to ensure nothing like that could happen again.

In goal they’ll have the usually reliable Brad Friedel who is a month or so shy of his 40th birthday. Friedel spent most of the 90’s shuttling around different clubs in England trying but failing to obtain a work permit to ply his trade here. It wasn’t until 1995 when he signed for Liverpool (a place singularly qualified to get round DWP paperwork) that the authorities finally relented. He averaged about ten games a season for the next few years before moving across Lancs to Blackburn where he was a fixture between the sticks for eight years. He moved to Villa at the start of the 2008/09 season, saving a penalty in his first match of the season v Reading. He went on to break the record for consecutive appearances in the Premier League – though a red card following a blatant dive by Torres (quelle surprise) in a defeat to Liverpool looked like curtailing his streak. Unusually for the FA a rare bout of common sense prevailed and the red card was rescinded and the streak went on to exceed 250 matches.

In front of Friedel we are likely to see the return of James “Ginger Pele” Collins. Ginge was with the club between 2005 and 2009 featuring in the 2006 FA Cup run as well as the so-called Great Escape season. Ginge was on the scoresheet last weekend, his winner being enough to take all three points from the Geordies and our traditional frailty at set pieces will mean we’ll have to be alert. Although he missed long spells of his time at the Boleyn through injury, Collins was a popular figure with the home faithful and will probably enjoy a nice round of applause when his name is announced before the match.

Unlike Nigel Reo-Coker of course. NRC’s comments at the time of his departure from the Boleyn, alongside rumours of rifts with team-mates and management alike, were such that he is unlikely to be afforded quite the same warmth as Collins on his return. I was always slightly infuriated by NRC as a player when he played for us. You always got the impression that hiding somewhere in there was a potentially superb player. However my main memory of him will always be seeing him burst out of defence from box to box only to see him shoot when a pass was on or, alternatively, pass when he should have shot. If he could have got that habit sorted out surely a decent international future would have beckoned. He does hold the honour of being the first Englishman to captain a side at the refurbished Wembley (in a 3-3 draw for the U21’s against Italy) and, having yet to gain full international honours in this country, there was some recent talk that Sierra Leone might come knocking for African Cup of Nations qualifiers. However the player announced that he was going to concentrate on his Villa career – adding a rather optimistic additional comment to the effect that he’d quite like to play for England as well.

A full uninjured squad means that Houllier is likely to name an unchanged starting XI, which would mean a place on the bench for Reo-Coker where he is likely to be accompanied by serial diver Robert Pires. Up front they are likely to start with “Emile Heskey Lite” or Darren Bent as he is known. Now I know I’m old and any transfer fee in excess of five pounds seven and six confuses me and makes my arthritis play up. However, even in this day of ridiculously high transfer fees surely somebody has put the decimal point in the wrong place somewhere in amongst the £16 to £18 million pound fees that have been shelled out for him – Villa could end up having to pay £24m with add-ons. I realise that this is probably the kiss of death and this means that he’ll score against us but surely he’s not £24million’s worth of player is he? No wonder Niall Quinn always seems to have a smile on his face.

As an attacking force Houllier has tended to use the young Gabriel Agbonlahor as a wide player, something that has reduced his effectiveness as a goalscorer. Agbonlahor has a few England caps, making his debut against Germany in 2008. After the match John Terry praised the youngster saying “he’s a nightmare to play against”. That’s where you’ve been going wrong at international level Terry. You are supposed to play alongside your team-mates not against them.

Ashley Young has, this season anyway, been given a free role behind the main striker. Young is a former Arsenal supporter who, like Pires, seems to have taken on board some of the less edifying habits of his former role models, particularly in the “staying on the feet” department. He also has a webcam apparently. Go Google it if you’re that interested.

So what of us then. Well squad news is promising with all but the likes of Stanislas and Collison fit and able though doubts about Scotty Parker's achilles still persist. Amazingly, the squad includes Kieron Dyer who has returned from his loan spell at Ipswich without picking up any previously unheard of diseases or injuries, despite the reduced resistance to illness that people have in those parts as a result of the limited gene pool.

Der Hammer will face his old club – with all these warm rounds of applause it’ll feel just like the afternoon tea dances they hold here at the rest home.

Of course no mention of the squad this week could go without some mention of the passing of an era. Now as I get older and older I often find myself walking into a room having no idea why I went in there in the first place. This usually happens to me here at the rest home (the incident at Cheltenham Ladies College was a one-off. Honest). So I can have some sympathy with young Benedict McCarthy who must have had that feeling every time he turned up at Chadwell Heath. Certainly every time we saw him on the pitch we all had the same feeling (“what is HE doing here?”) as he must have been experiencing. So now he is gone and he will soon be but a footnote in Hammers history, alongside such luminaries as Titi Camara, John Radford, Marco Boogers and that funny looking bloke who used to sell peanuts from the touchline all those years ago. As a tribute we have managed to persuade matron to rename our rest home “The Benni McCarthy Home for The Bewildered”. Quite apt really as we’re all old, past it and it costs our kids lot of money to keep us here for very little result.

On the pitch, the last two weeks have not been kind to us. As I pointed out the last time I was able to put quill to parchment, no matter what Ferguson says, the Salford whingers have the knack of getting more than favourable treatment from match officials. In our recent match alone we had the kid gloves handling of Vidic (who would have had to have done something interesting with napalm to get a red card) the dodgy free-kick and a penalty so astonishing that even Uriah Rennie would have been embarrassed to have given it (and let’s face it he had no shame). Now admittedly they were far the better side in the second half but surely we were entitled to mount a rearguard action without the opposition being handed the initiative and advantage by a series of baffling decisions? I’m sure Grant was fuming but as his touchline ban proved the FA are less bothered in improving standards than they are in covering up the poor ones they already have.

As for the Bolton game, well whilst you know and I know we never get anything out of them, one would have hoped that the players might have approached the match with a slightly different perspective. Sadly not. The fact that the highlight of the game for us was the mismatch between Noble and Green says it all I’m afraid.

It may be that, within the club, we had Man Utd and Bolton down as “bonus games” from which we expected nothing. If so I wish someone would have a word and stop the practice. By doing so you run the danger of taking other matches for granted and, as we all know, football has a habit of kicking you right where you don’t want to rub linament when you do that sort of thing.

Having said that, this match is certainly winnable. Villa’s away form, as mentioned, is patchy and, although last week’s win over Newcastle was comfortable enough, they were assisted in their efforts by Newcastle’s lack of attacking prowess – I understand that it wasn’t until the 83rd minute or so that they actually managed to get a shot away. I’d hope that we’d show a little more adventure than that.

I hate the phrase “must-win” but if ever a match required the epithet this was it. There are parallels with the home match against Wigan a while back – remember “Save Our Season”? and I think the sheer urgency of the matter will lead us to victory. A nervy 2-1 to us then.

Enjoy the game!

Last season: Won 2-1 A fine - and incident packed - game under the lights. Noble (pen) gave us the lead. Green saved a very dubious penalty. Young equalised. Beye got sent off. Hines gave us all three points in stoppage time and the irritating Nigel Kennedy found himself facing a hefty repair bill after driving into the back of Upton Girlie’s Overfinch.

Danger Man: Darren Bent – the sort of useless journeyman who always somehow manages to score when better players don’t.

Referee: Michael Oliver – Last seen overseeing the 2-2 away draw at Birmingham. The youngest referee in the premiership, he is unlikely to add much in the way of second half stoppage time as his Mum calls him in for tea at 5pm on the dot.

Daft fact of the week: Apparently no Aston Villa substitute has scored this season. Cue the arrival of Emile Bloody Heskey to net late on then.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by Colin kosky
09:33PM 15th Apr 2011
''Well written piece- I laughed, I cried and I sneezed. Hope the match is as good.''

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