West Ham United v Aston Villa

He's a bit late tonight. This is because he's spent the past few hours trying to convince a Crystal Palace fan that they are in fact playing West BROM tomorrow. Preview Percy may be daft but he usually gets the names of our opponents right. Well "occasionally" anyway...

Next we are at home where we will play host to our guests from Birmingham in the form of Aston Villa. Kick-off is the sacred hour of 3pm. Tfl? Engineering works? Of course. No District line twixt Dagenham East & Upminster is the order of the day. The C2C will still be open though, which will be some consolation as you sit on your replacement bus. And don't think you Central Line johnnies are going to escape. Nothing east of Bethnal Green - well nothing that's of any use anyway . Usual rules apply - check before you leave.
A quick word about our visitors. Now don't get me wrong, I'm quite a fan of royalty. Why, only last week at the annual Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home for the Bewildered's annual trip to the cinema I berated the spotty oik of a cinema manager for a) not playing the national anthem at the conclusion of the programme; and b) letting me stand waiting for 35 minutes in a dark and empty auditorium in the vain hope that said anthem would be played. I was also quite friendly with Princess Margaret you know, so I will defer to no one in my respect for the House Of Windsor. However, if Prince William insists on bringing up the newest member of the "firm" as a Vila supporter then I'm afraid Social Services will have to become involved. I mean poor George is going to end up having to go to Birmingham every now and then to open some day care centre or another quite enough without inflicting unnecessary trips up to Villa Park on him.
The Villains currently sit in 13th place with 10 points from their 9 matches so far - 1 point and 2 places above our good selves. They kicked off the season with a win at the library, much to everyone's amusement. Since then their form has been a bit up and down and they've actually been on the losing end five times this season. Their most recent reverse was last weekend's 2-0 reverse at home to Everton. This appeared (from such highlights as I was able to view) to be not a half bad game of football. Certainly the home side had a decent share of the game and they ought to have taken the lead with Tim Howard (note to Villas-Boas: THAT's what a beard looks like) making a rather good save from a first half penalty.
They are managed by Paul Lambert, a shrewd chap who elected to do his coaching exams in Germany. In truth it wasn't the greatest of first seasons though. They spent much of 2012/13 with one eye over their shoulder thanking their lucky stars that Wigan, QPR and Reading were so bloody awful. Even a run to the League Cup semi-final was scant consolation, with Bradford adding their scalps to the list of giants slain. Their form picked up at the end of the season and they eventually finished up in 15th spot with the two North Eastern clubs and 5 points sitting between them and the trapdoor, a position helped in no small measure by a 6-1 win over the Mackems.
Clearly changes were required so Randl Lerner's pocketbook (wallet) saw daylight. In defence they brought in left-back Antonio Luna for from Seville. Luna immediately endeared himself to Villa fans by popping up up front on the right hand side to net the third in the win at Arsenal.
They picked up a couple of strikers. Czech international Libor Kozak came in for a few bob over ?6m from Lazio. He had a mixed time in Rome, failing to score in any of his last 19 league matches, though he was their top scorer in the Thursday Night Cup, finishing with 8 to his name as they progressed to the quarter finals.
The other striker they picked up was Dane Niklas Helenius who arrived from Aalborg for ?1.2m. The most notable thing about Helenius was the chant that the Aalborg support had for him. Based on the old standard "Eviva Espana" the lyrics loosely transate as: "we like violence, cocaine and Niklas Helenius". Those wacky Danes eh? Though I'm not sure Difford and Tilbrook have too much to be worried about in the songwriting stakes.

Kozak and Helenius have been brought in to provide back-up and competition for the likes of Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonglahor. Benteke looked like he'd be on his way during the summer having handed in a transfer request. Sums upward of ?25m were being bandied about but the Belgian eventually changed his mind and signed a new four year deal. He's had a spell out with a hip injury but returned a couple of weeks ago.

Agbonglahor made himself a bit of a hero to music fans everywhere a few weeks back by kicking lumps out of one of the mime artists from One Direction during a charity match. Agbonglahor received death threats from hundreds of One Direction fans, who presumably thought that they could beat him to death with their school pencil cases. I'm guessing that the player didn't lose an awful lot of sleep over the whole thing.

All those forwards mean that there is no room for Darren Bent. Somehow transferred for fees of ?40m+ over the years he's been put safely out of harm's way for the season - I had been concerned that someone at the Boleyn might consider him to be the answer to our striker shortage. Thankfully, Fulham took that particular bullet for us.

Which brings us to our good selves. That wasn't a bad result in midweek. Especially when you look at the fact tat we had the kids out against the team that sits at the top of the league. Interesting draw too. You have to laugh at Spurs whose players now appear to be as cerebrally-challenged as their fans are. Andros Townsend described their League Cup victory over Hull as a "great win". That's right, a 2-2 draw with an 8-7 scrape-through on penalties is a "great win". Over Hull. Mind you his vision is still probably bit impaired - it must be dazzling coming into daylight after so long in Razvan Rat's pocket.

The efforts of the last few weeks have come at a cost - latest reports suggest that James Tomkins has a slight hamstring problem, though James Collins may be set for a return from his own hamstring issue.

We're still in an apparent quandary over the front position(s). Mr Allardyce has been quoted as saying that Carlton Cole is still a while away from starting a League game. Petric may be struggling with a thigh problem which leaves us looking at good 'ole 4-6-0 again. The problem being that Ricardo Vaz Te, whose improving form was pretty much integral to that system working, is also out for the foreseeable, those dislocated shoulders take forever to heal. That might mean that Joe Cole, whose involvement has been mainly from the bench in recent weeks, gets more time on pitch than of late.

The home form is something of a concern at the moment. I say form, it's less the form than the results. With the exception of the Man City game - no shame in losing that one with the form they were in that day - many of our results have come from circumstances outside our control. We're due a break in that respect so, for this week's prediction, I'll be staking the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered's fund to buy a proper claret & blue scarf for Prince George (?2.50) on us to win a tight one 1-0.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At The Boleyn - Won 1-0 Sweltering heat greeted us for our return to the top flight. A Kevin Nolan first half goal was enough to give us all three points against the combined might of Vila and Mike Dean.

Howard Webb One of the fireproof ones. Has become rather erratic over the past four years but nobody seems to have the bottle to say so. Last seen at the Boleyn on opening day aginst Cardiff.

Danger Man: Christian Benteke. Much better than his near-nameske, despite his new deal there are a few big clubs sniffing around waiting for the window to open. Ans Spurs.

Daft Fact Of The Week: Twattish fiddle player Nigel Kennedy of "accent more fake than Dick Van Dyke" and "Last Night Of The Proms ruining" fame supports Villa. Just saying, Prince George, you might want to have a think about that when you're old enough.

John NorthcuttStat man John: Northcutt's corner

Head to Head
Pld 105; West Ham Utd 38, Aston Villa 37, 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
10th February 2013: Aston Villa 2-1 West Ham Utd (Villa Park, Premier League)
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)

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 'Bill' 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.

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