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Aston Villa v West Ham United

Filed: Friday, 8th February 2013
By: Preview Percy

Next up we go up the M1, M6 and down the A38(M) to Villa Park where our hosts will be Aston Villa.

It’s a Sunday 1.30pm kick off. There’s engineering works on the Circle line so if you are travelling via Euston you may need to give yourselves extra time to get there. Otherwise it’s on one of those space tv channels for which coverage will probably start about four hours before kick-off if you really have nothing else to do.

By and large it’s been a pretty wretched season for the Villains, who have spent much of the season flirting with the relegation places. As it stands they’re second from bottom with 21 points from 25 games. They’re 4 points clear from QPR who occupy the bottom slot and level on points with Wigan thanks to an eight goal deficit on the goal-difference front. That’ll be the Chelsea defeat just before Christmas then.

Their last six league matches have seen them draw three (2-2 at Swansea and West Brom and 3-3 at Everton) and lost three (all at home, 0-3 to Wigan, 1-2 to Newcastle and 0-1 to Southampton). In amongst all that they got knocked out of the League Cup at the semi-final stage by Bradford and suffered the ultimate ignominy of being knocked out of the FA Cup by Millwall. Pretty grim stuff.

The man tasked with handling all this is Paul Lambert. Lambert came in to replace the never popular Alex McLeish who stuck his head round the door at Forest for a few days recently. One of the notable features of the Lambert tenure is that he appears to share my views on the baffling “talents” of Darren Bent. Regular readers will know that, despite his habit of scoring against us on an irritatingly frequent basis, I really don’t rate Bent. It seems that Lambert is of similar opinion as he’s only been given a handful of starts in the league this season.

Instead, the first choice striker is near-namesake Christian Benteke. Benteke (Congolese for “better than Darren Bent” I expect) is the club’s top scorer with 14 this season, of which ten have come in the league. Although born in the Congo, Benteke qualifies for Belgium at international level and has 4 goals from his 8 caps thus far. There are murmurings that Benteke wants out at the end of the season. Whether there’s any substance to the murmurings or they represent some kite-flying from an agent, it’s hardly the sort of thing that they want to be hearing at Villa Park in the middle of a relegation scrap.

The received wisdom on Villa’s season so far is that they’ve lacked experience in crucial areas. In defence the “old head” might have been expected to have been Richard Dunne. The 33 year old Irish international has, however, been injured all season with that old favourite of this column “Gilmore’s Groin” which, until I started doing these previews, I had previously assumed to have been a small sheep-farming community somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Australia. Dunne’s had three operations on the problem this season. Although he has apparently returned to training, he’s still listed as “no return date” by the usual sources.

Right at the time their most experienced defender caught Gilmore’s, they sold another central defender in the shape of James Collins to us. All of which made the recent two month injury absence of skipper Ron Vlaar more important. Vlaar’s back now to bolster a defence that against Everton included Matt Lowton, who came in from Sheffield Hypocrisy in the close season, Ciaran Clark, the 23 year-old former England U18 & U19 skipper who nailed his colours to the Republic of Ireland mast rather than not be selected at grown-up level, and left-back Joe Bennett who came in from Boro’ last summer. There’s a fair bit of “learning on the job” going on in there and the defensive resources will be further tested with the news that there is a doubt over Bennett who has that mysterious ailment of “a knock”.

Another notable absentee will be midfielder Stiliyan Petrov. Petrov is recovering from leukaemia which was discovered when he underwent tests following Fabrice Muamba’s collapse at Spurs last year. So the medics saved at least two lives that night. Petrov is said to be in remission at the moment and the general noises coming out from the player suggests that the prognosis is good. Those of us here at the Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered send our best wishes anyway. They have taken to having a minute’s applause for the player in the 19th minute of matches. A laudable sentiment, though I’m never quite sure of the etiquette on such occasions. What happens if there’s an incident in the 19th minute – a foul or a goal or something. Does one just abandon the applause or what. Clearly I need some sort of handbook to modern living.

They appear to have been playing in 4-2-3-1 formation. The three behind Benteke last week were Weimann, N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor.

N’Zogbia famously had a falling out in 2009 at Newcastle with the then boss Joe Kinnear. Kinnear, displaying all the wit and intellect we’ve come to expect from him over the years, referred to the player as “insomnia”. Whilst the rest of the world were out having their split sides repaired after the paroxysms of laughter, for N’Zogbia it was the final straw and, having already earlier announced that he wanted to move to a club more in line with his loftier ambitions a move in the January window was inevitable. He ended up settling for Wigan, indicating the player’s fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “ambition”. He spent much of his time at Wigan seemingly looking for another club (well you would, wouldn’t you) and at one stage it looked like he might be off to Birmingham until someone had a word in his ear about that word “ambition”. He couldn’t agree personal terms (he wanted paying) and ended up at Villa Park in July 2011 for a reported fee of £9.5m

It was a quiet window for them. Residing as one does in a rest home, most of us are a bit mutton in these parts. So when I heard that Cilla had signed for them I was a bit confused. After all, if you were going to sign an untalented irritating scouser surely Carragher would be your first choice? Once I’d replaced the Ever-Readies on the electric ear-trumpet I have to wear these days I discovered that the player in question was in fact Yacouba Sylla, a defensive midfielder who has arrived from the splendidly-named Clermont Foot. He may get his first start on Sunday.

And so to us. That win has released some of the pressure that was building up in recent weeks and the return of Mr Carroll was paramount in that. Kevin Nolan looks a much better player with his one time lodger about and he does bring other players into the game in a manner that Carlton Cole tries to do but does so without consistency. Now he’s fit (hopefully) we need to see him scoring on a regular basis.

In other news Mr Allardyce has found himself £8,000 lighter in the wallet for, well you tell me. It’s as if the FA have rumbled that our referees are rubbish but have decreed it to be some sort of a state secret that is not to be revealed under any circumstances. Surely the FA would be better served trying to find out why referees are so in thrall to the home side at Old Trafford. For example, why don’t they examine whether it was appropriate for a referee to give a yellow card for a red card offence calling the player over with a cheery “come here Scholsey”. Why don’t they look at certain referees seem to be immune from sanction no matter how bad their performances (clue – if you put someone like Riley in charge what exactly do you expect?) Stop shooting the messengers and look at the real problem.

Rant over. There are no fresh injury worries Collins, McCartney, Demel and Potts will all miss out, whilst Mo Maiga is still down in South Africa where Mali will contest the third place playoff with Ghana.

This is an interesting match statistically speaking. Their home form is about as good as our away form at the moment so that’ll be preying on their minds – and we all know how that feels. They will have felt good for 90 or so minutes last week but the fact that they played ok but still managed to throw away a 3-1 lead will also do little for their confidence. Hopefully it won’t have escaped their notice that Carroll scored from a corner – something that they’ve not exactly been good at defending of late.

As for us we really need to actually go for it away from home a bit more. When Mr Allardyce took over he made great play of how he intended to tighten things up away from home. We saw that on a number of occasions last season but the problem is that this season we’ve been conceding early goals, at which point the sitting deep and attacking on the counter tactic becomes self defeating. Nobody’s saying we should go all gung-ho about things but whatever we’re doing at the moment isn’t working – 6 goals on the road all season would seem to bear that out. And if you can’t go for it a little bit against a team with a home record like Villa’s when can you?

With as full a squad as we can hope for to choose from, and with the confidence boost of last week’s win against what was, let’s not forget, a fairly useful Swansea side, behind us I think we can get a rare win from this one. I’m therefore going to put the Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered “investment” fund that would otherwise have been placed on something that would have ended up as a Findus Lasagne (£2.50) on a 2-1 win to us.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At Villa Park Lost 3-0 (August 2010) First game of the season, full of optimism, what could possibly go wrong? Well they appointed Mike Dean as referee for a start and he decided to repeal the offside law. He needn’t have bothered. We were so bad we’d have lost 3-0 without his usual incompetence helping the home side out.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg. Has milked the wave of sympathy over the crap that Chelsea sent his way. Not the most reliable of refs but had a decent match when last we saw him in the home match against Norwich on New Year’s Day.

Danger Man:Christian Benteke – he’s their top scorer and will provide their main threat. Unless they bring on Bent of course. He’ll score against us despite being useless.

Daft Fact Of The Week: Aston is a suburb of Birmingham which, by coincidence, is also the name of a city in Alabama. You can tell the difference between the two: one is a city where, due to a limited gene pool caused by inbreeding, everyone looks like that scary kid with the banjo in “Deliverance” whilst the other……nah far too easy and obvious!

John NorthcuttStat man John: Northcutt's corner

Head to Head
Pld 104; West Ham Utd 38, 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
18th August 2012: West Ham Utd 1-0 Aston Villa (Boleyn Ground, Premier League)
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)

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
William Askew; Carlton Cole; James Collins; Alan Curbishley; Mervyn Day; Ray Houghton; Thomas Hitzlsperger; David James; Fred Norris; Nigel Reo-Coker; Tony Scott; Les Sealey; Tommy Southren; Phil Woosnam; John Carew; Frank McAvennie; Nobby Solano; Marlon Harewood.

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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