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West Ham United v Aston Villa

Filed: Friday, 17th August 2012
By: Preview Percy

It’s a new season and that can mean only one thing. Ten more months of visits to the Marco Boogers wing of the Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered to pick up the usual mad ramblings of Preview Percy, a prospect we find about as appealing as the idea of being forced to sit and watch the Olympic Closing Ceremony again.

Here’s his opening salvo of the season, a look at Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa. At least he’s cheap. By way of compensation there’s statistical input from John Northcutt to jog the memory cells…

So here we are once more, back upstairs in the penthouse apartment with the big screen telly and the stunning river views having moved up from the bedsit with the two-bar electric fire and rising damp. A home opener against Aston Villa starts the Premier League ball rolling in a 3pm kick off on a Saturday. Which is precisely as it should be of course.

All engineering activity on the tubes having ceased for the last few weeks whilst the school sports were going on, the good people at TfL have forgotten their usual habit of making it difficult for us to get to matches and you should get a clear run on the modern electric underground railway thing. You can ignore the special games lanes for the time being as well.

It’s all change for our opponents at the start of this season. Last term the faithful appeared less than happy at the appointment of Alex McLeish whose previous employers just happened to be Birmingham City. This particular sin might have been forgiven had McLeish actually been any good.

Unfortunately, it was a pretty undistinguished season for the Villains who finished in 16th spot with 38 points – a slightly worrying two points clear of Bolton who occupied the final relegation place. They failed to make any meaningful impression in the cups either, Arsenal seeing them off in the 4th round of the FA Cup whilst the aforementioned Bolton knocked them out of the League Cup at the third round stage.

All of which was served up with a heavy dose of perspective as it was announced that midfielder Stiliyan Petrov was suffering from leukaemia. Happily his treatment has gone well enough for the club to be able to announce recently that the player’s condition is in remission and, whilst there is a long way to go yet, the outlook is good.

Back on less serious matters, a relegation battle was never going to be good enough for the club’s owner, Randy Lerner (apparently his real name) and barely 24 hours had elapsed after the final day 2-0 defeat to Norwich when McLeish picked up his P45.

It was back to Carrow Road that Lerner went and, following a cuppa and presumably some wonderfully light home-made cake with Delia the highly–regarded Paul Lambert came in. Lambert had tried to resign at the end of the season but the resignation had been rejected, presumably in order to ensure compensation for any forthcoming departure.

Lambert is regarded as something of a thinker amongst coaches (much in the same way that Harry Redknapp isn’t) and it was back to Germany, where he won the so-called Champions League with Borussia Dortmund, that Lambert travelled to study for the coaching badges that are required to take office these days. Look out for Villa in the Cups then in any go to penalty shootouts.

Lambert’s relatively early close-season appointment has afforded him the time to go shopping and to rebuild the squad in his own image. Amongst those through the exit door was the released Emile Heskey. Blackpool reportedly offered Heskey £90 per week plus bonuses (that’ll be £90 per week then) to join. Heskey rejected the deal on the grounds that he felt insulted by the offer and wanted a contract that reflected his worth (that’ll be £85 per week then).

They also sold James Collins back to us, the reported £2.5m fee meaning that we’re still in profit on 'The Ginger Pele'. Collins blotted his Villa Park copybook towards the end of last season, picking up a club fine for being involved in a nightclub incident a few days before a match with Spurs. Still, hangover and all they still managed to mess up Spurs' so-called Champions League prospects by drawing 1-1, so it wasn’t all bad news.

Collins’ replacement in the back four is Dutch International Ron Vlaar. Vlaar came in on a deal worth around £3.3m having originally failed to agree terms earlier in the window. Vlaar missed a couple of seasons a few years ago with a cruciate ligament problem, followed by a bacterial infection (sounds like one of those things go to those 'special' clinics for. Er, so I’m told).

When he’d got over that, he did the same cruciate ligament again in a training ground accident so it’s fair to say that the player won’t look back on 2007/08 or 2008/09 with an awful lot of fondness. Having missed out on the 2010 World Cup Vlaar made a couple of starts in Euro 2012 – which seems so long ago now, doesn’t it.

Vlaar was Lambert's second signing of the summer from Feyenoord, with him having earlier popped over to Rotterdam to sign Dutch-Moroccan midfielder Karim El Ahmadi. Feyenoord have spent most of the past couple of seasons trying to offload the player in an attempt to raise funds for player purchases and he spent the back end of 2010/11 in the United Arab Emirates on loan, an experience that he likened to playing in and against the weakest teams in the Dutch league.

Things might have got interesting had Feyenoord been able to agree a fee with Al Ahli FC but 'twas not to be which is why El Ahmadi now finds himself in the slightly less warmer climes of Birmingham. Although the player represented the Dutch national side at junior age levels, when the Moroccans came knocking at the door with competitive football on offer he went to his family roots and now has full caps for the North African country.

They also brought in right back Matt Lowton, the £3.3m fee presumably going some way to keeping parasite whingers Sheffield United afloat following their inexplicable failure to be in the Premier League when it was completely our fault that they went down.

At the end of last season Villa let 'keeper Brad Guzan go, his contract having expired. Exit McLeish and enter Lambert and lo and behold, Guzan re-signs. He’s still likely to play second fiddle in the onion-bag guardian pecking order to Shay Given, who has just announced his retirement from international football.

Given must be having an attack of the 'what might have beens' as he looks up at Man City’s Premier League title, his career there never really having taken off after his move from Newcastle. There’s never a right time to pick up an injury I suppose, but if there’s a wrong time, just as your club is beginning to hit the jackpot would probably be it.

Up front there’s Darren Bent. Bent is a younger and less 'robust' version of Emile Heskey and has never, ever impressed anyone. How he’s managed to get caps for England when Bert, who has the room next to mine here at the Avram Grant Rest Home for the Bewildered doesn’t get selected I’ll never know. (Actually we think it’s something to do with Bert not being able to get the oxygen tank he needs these days through the airport metal detectors).

What makes the thing so damned annoying is the fact Bent, who has played for Ipswich, Spurs, Sunderland and Villa in his time has scored against us for all of those clubs (except Sunderland – but it would only have been a matter of time). I mean I know Michael Owen always scores against us but you can sort of take it from him.

File him in the section marked 'annoying'. Bent picked up a brace in a recent friendly against Werder Bremen so he’ll be full of beans. Maybe it’s something about clubs beginning with the letter 'W'.

And so to us. Well as one might expect following a promotion there’s been a few changes in personnel. It’s farewell to Rob Green who was always going to leave once his contract was up, having got the hump previously over how small his salary was in comparison to some other players whose contribution to the cause was nowhere near his own. It’s to his credit that he never let his annoyance with the owners affect his game and he’s one ex-Hammer who I’ll willingly applaud on his return.

The other notable departure was that of Julien Faubert who’s off to somewhere not particularly well-known in Turkey (ie not Fenerbahce or Galatasaray). Faubert carried on with the time-honoured tradition of picking up an awful pre-season injury when he signed for us and was probably nowhere near the player we signed following his return. His time with us included a surreal spell on loan at Real Madrid where the most notable thing he did was fall asleep on the subs bench!

To replace Green in comes Jussi Jaaskelainen (Message to editors: if you want me to type that out every flipping week I want a pay rise) and Stephen Henderson, whose loan spell from Pompey has been made permanent. Hopefully JJ (told you) will repeat the form for us that he always seemed to display when playing against us.

In front of him we welcome back to the fold the aforementioned James Collins. If we keep selling him then buying him back for half the price we sold him for we’ll be rolling in it.

So far this window we have operated on the “you can never have enough midfielders” principle. Diame, one of two guys called Mo that we’ve signed, has come in from Wigan to whom we didn’t have to pay a fee. Which hopefully will have annoyed child slave labourer Dave Whelan. Diame tends to play a defensive midfield role, as does Alou Diarra to whom we also say, er, ‘allo.

Diarra has come in from Marseilles, has captained France and his previous spell in English football is noteworthy for his having arrived at Liverpool and returned to France on loan before the ink on the transfer documents had dried. I suppose that’s something that we can all relate to – everytime I pitch up on Merseyside I take one look at the state of the place and immediately wish I was somewhere else. Possibly even France.

The second guy called Mo to arrive is Modibo Maiga from Mali. He’s supposed to have failed a medical with Newcastle before Christmas but is now seemingly fit and ready for the rigours of Premier League life at the Boleyn.

The new signings and the fact that we seem capable of fielding ten midfielders (it’d have been eleven had Lansbury not gone back to Arsenal) makes it difficult to establish what the line-up is likely to look like. We do have injuries though. Jack Collison’s knee has seen him spend pre-season in the Kieron Dyer Memorial Treatment Facility.

Against Braga – which I suppose is as good a clue as any - we started off with Reid and Ginge pairing up at the back, pushing Tomkins into that auxiliary midfield role we kept trying him in only for someone to be sent off requiring him to play in a more orthodox midfield position. Ginge missed the midweek international with a pelvic/groin injury. The word is that Ginge’s injury may eventually require an op but that he is likely to be available for selection this weekend.

In Portugal, Demel and O’Brien made up the full backs; hopefully Demel will improve on his last competitive match for us where he had a 'mare against Blackpool before getting injured. After the play-off Final I heard one of our supporters go on the wireless the morning after suggesting full backs ought to be a priority. I agree with that man.

In midfield, despite the apparent embarrassment of numbers one notable absentee will be Jack Collison. Collison has apparently been unable to train properly since the win over Blackpool all those aeons ago and rest is the order of the day.

Up front in Braga we had Carlton Cole and Mo Maiga being augmented by Vaz Te and, if I had to guess that would be my prediction of how we’ll start out this weekend, though given the manager’s habit of preparing for each opponent differently it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see something else.

Villa will be missing three important players themselves - in addition to club captain Petrov (for obvious reasons). Richard Dunne has picked up 'Gilmore’s Groin' which is a genuine injury that Mark Noble once suffered from, and not, as some of you may be thinking, a piece of scurrilous gossip.

Marc (note to his family – don’t be flash it’s spelt 'Mark') Albrighton will miss this one with a broken metatarsal. If ever you needed proof of our being back in the Premier League it’s the fact that the boring old broken toes that people suffered from in the Championship have suddenly metamorphosed back to the infinitely more trendy 'metatarsals' that we’ve become used to in recent years.

Up front, Gabriel Agbonlahor will also miss out with a cruciate knee ligament problem. Knees aren’t what they used to be – when I was a lad ligaments stood the test of time and it was cartilage operations that were all the rage. Nowadays you rarely hear of cartilage ops. Unless that was in the episode of Holby City that we missed in the TV room here at the Rest Home I threatened to put my foot through the screen unless something else, anything else, was shown.

The absence of Dunne will mean an unfamiliar back four for them, with the main man having no English league experience. Also, without Agbonlahor they seem to lack a bit of depth in attack so, for my first prediction of the season I’ll take us to turn the first game feel good factor into three points.

The rest home’s Olympic Celebration budget (£2.50) has therefore been liberated from the secret place where Matron keeps it and placed firmly on a home win to occur by a 3-1 margin. We might even be top of the league if that happens.

For a bit.

Enjoy the game!

Referee: Mike Dean. Loves to be the centre of attention and if the players aren’t giving him anything to do he is not above making controversial decisions for the sake of it. Actually had a half-decent match when last we saw him in the 3-0 play-off semi-final defeat of Cardiff, which suggests that he saves his self-promotion for the bigger TV audiences.

Some other referees rate him – which is not something to boast about. Consider this: the last time we were in the top flight we had this ref twice for every time he was entrusted with a match involving Man Utd. In fact we only had him for one less match (2) than the Salford whingers (3) last season – when we were in the Championship. Now call me suspicious but…..

When Last We Met: April 2011 (lost 1-2). A horrible, horrible match. Robbie Keane (remember him?) gave us an early lead but we sat back and invited them on to us. Darren Bent (qv) stuck away his customary goal whilst Gabriel Agbonlahor added a stoppage time winner. Worse still, a shocking tackle from Nigel Reo-Coker nearly ended Gary O’Neil’s career. A lousy day all round that was just another nail in the relegation coffin.

Danger Men: Mike Dean (obviously) and Darren Bent . Neither of this week’s danger men is particularly good at his job. Despite this both have an irritating habit of putting in a match-winning performance against us.

Daft facts of the week: Villa didn’t score a single goal from a corner last season, apparently.

Additionally, apart from being home to Villa, Aston is also the surname adopted by actress Anne Lloyd part of the way through her run as hostess of seminal 1960’s Birmingham-based TV game show 'The Golden Shot' when she discovered that there was already an actress registered with that name.

For those of you too young to remember, Aston was a sort of anti-Carol Vorderman: "Our next contestant is, er, I’ve forgotten your name. Oh yes, Ronald from Birchfield. I mean Gloucester". "Ronald scored five points on the static target and 20 points on the moving target making a total of (long pause) er, 24 points. No 25. I think".

And Bernie The Bolt’s real name was Derek - and he was no relation to Usain.

John NorthcuttStat man John: Northcutt's corner

Head to Head
Pld 103; West Ham Utd 37, Aston Villa 36, Draws 30.

Biggest Win
30th August 1958: West Ham Utd 7-2 Aston Villa (Boleyn Ground, Division One)

Heaviest Defeat
6th September 1930: Aston Villa 6-1 West Ham Utd (Villa Park, Division One)

First Meeting
1t February 1913: Aston Villa 5-0 West Ham Utd (Villa Park, FA Cup)

Last Five Meetings
16th April 2011: West Ham Utd 1-2 Aston Villa (Boleyn Ground, Premier League)
14h August 2010: Aston Villa 3-0 West Ham Utd (Villa Park, Premier League)
17th January 2010: Aston Villa 0-0 West Ham Utd (Villa Park, Premier League)
4th November 2009: West Ham Utd 2-1 Aston Villa (Boleyn Ground, Premier League)
18th April 2009: Aston Villa 1-1 West Ham Utd (Boleyn Ground, Premier League)

Memorable Match
8th March 1980: West Ham Utd 1-0 Aston Villa (Boleyn Ground, FA Cup)

Second division West Ham were huge underdogs in this FA Cup quarter Final against a first division Aston Villa side who were to be crowned European Champions within two years. With the game entering the final minute of normal time Ken McNaught's hand struck Trevor Brooking's corner. Referee David Richardson had no doubt and pointed immediately to the penalty spot - to the delight of more than 36,000 fans crammed into the Boleyn Ground.

With several of his team mates unable to watch, 20-year-old full-back Ray 'Tonka' Stewart - at Second Division West Ham for less than a year following his £400,000 move from Dundee United - stepped up to smash the ball into Jimmy Rimmer's bottom right corner to send the happy Hammers through to a semi-final clash with another First Division team, Everton.

Video: http://youtu.be/bmDijc0Oc5U

Seeing Red
4th December 1982: Ray Stewart for body-checking Mark Walters

They Played For Both
Bill Askew; John Carew; Carlton Cole; James Collins; Alan Curbishley; Mervyn Day; Marlon Harewood; Ray Houghton; Thomas Hitzlsperger; David James; Frank McAvennie; Fred Norris; Nigel Reo-Coker; Tony Scott; Les Sealey; Phil Woosnam.

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.

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