Premier League
West Ham United 1 Aston Villa 2

Saturday, 16th April 2011
by Gordon Thrower

It’s déjà vu all over again.

I'm sure if I could be bothered to look back over my match reports I've used that "Yogi-ism" before but frankly the parallels between this match and others we've seen this season are so common that I was sorely tempted to reprint my Newcastle (h) report, do a quick "find and replace" between the words Newcastle and Villa, and change the goalscorers thus saving myself some valuable time. However the threat of having my privileges cut off (ooer) by the editor meant that I have been forced to relive the whole ghastly experience once more.

Team news was not good. Scott Parker's Achilles tendon was bad enough for him to miss this (and probably the next two) matches which left us with a starting line-up of Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Upson, Da Costa, Noble, Hitzlsperger, O'Neil, Obinna, Cole, Keane. There was a late change to the referee, Mark Halsey replacing rookie Michael Oliver. Of which more later.

As with the match against Newcastle, we had the brightest of starts, taking the lead on 2 minutes. We forced a corner on the left. The ball was partly cleared to Jacobsen whose shot was blocked, Hitzlsperger headed back into the danger area where Keanehad been left totally unmarked. The striker turned and buried a shot past Friedel from close range. A few Villa players moaned at Halsey for offside. They were wrong. Ashley Young had been very slow to come out and was playing Keane on by a good two yards at the time Der Hammer put head to ball.

So one nil up and all was well. We weren't looking too bad either as Keane fed Cole only for Young (L) to get the block in for another corner. Heck, we were even looking dangerous at corners. However things slowly started to turn pear-shaped.

On the quarter hour Da Costa was caught on the back of the heel by Bent as he cleared his lines. Whatever the nature of the knock it was clearly a painful one and, despite treatment, the Portuguese defender was unable to continue with Gabbidon coming on to replace him. Fifteen gone and one sub down.

Things got worse shortly after. A long ball from midfield from Keane saw Cole bearing down on goal. Dunne shoved the forward off the ball, a foul that ought to have been visible to ref Halsey despite his failure to keep up with play. Failing that the linesman in front of the Chicken Run had an uninterrupted view of proceedings. Now whilst the incident might not have been a penalty - it looked a foot or two outside to me - the one thing that it was unmistakably a foul. Since the ball was within playing distance, Cole was bearing down on goal some 12 yards out and there were no defenders between Cole and Friedel the foul satisfied all criteria for Dunne to be issued a red card. Halsey failed to give even the foul a decision as baffling as it was incorrect. It wasn't the last weird one from a ref who I generally have a lot of time for either.

Cole had another chance shortly after, making room on the edge of the box to get a shot in that took a deflection resulting in Friedel having to get down sharply to his left to turn the ball out for a corner.

However, after this we started to sit back and invited them on. Sound familiar? We had a let-off when Downing put over a cross to the far post where bent had the easiest job of putting the header away. Halsey spotted an infringement presumably thinking that no Premiership defender could possibly put as weak a jump in as Jacobsen had done without being fouled. However, it looked like another poor decision from the ref who was showing signs of "bad day at the office syndrome".

This should have served as a warning. Sadly, and predictably, it didn't. What was equally as sad and predictable was the self-inflicted manner of our downfall. An attack down the Villa left broke down and Gabbidon played it short to Noble. Noble elected to try to beat his opponent, presumably on the grounds that it was only Heskey. Heskey stuck out a boot, Young (A) fed the ball to Young (L) who clipped the ball over to Bent who made sure that no foul would be given this time by taking the precaution of not being challenged at all by Bridge as his easy header gave Green no chance.

That was sort of it for the first half - Halsey missing what looked suspiciously like a deliberate back-pass aside. We continued to concede space and invite them on thus proving (yet again) that if you hand over the initiative to your opponents it's damned hard to get it back.

Half time was enlivened by the arrival of a birthday cake made from Kit-Kats courtesy of Upton Girlie to mark what had been one of those significant landmarks that people always refuse to believe when I tell them. "Surely you're much younger than that" is the standard response from people - some of whom even manage to keep a straight face when they say it, bless them.

Blood sugar levels restored to alarmingly high levels all round the second half commenced. Unfortunately. More of the same was the order of the day, though there was much more diving from Young (A) in the second 45.

A long clearance from the back saw Bent get the better of Upson following the skipper's week attempt at a headed back pass. Green saved well at the near post to concede the corner. Young (A) then went down under absolutely no contact from Noble who got about a foot away from the Villa player whose spectacular dive conned Halsey. A quick change of angle with Petrov saw Young's goal-bound shot superbly tipped round the post by Green. Gabbidon had to be alert to cut out a dangerous cross and we seemingly couldn't be bothered to attack the ball from the resulting corner. Thankfully, neither could they.

Obinna became the next victim of Young (A)'s increased reluctance to stay on his feet, though really the lineman had the perfect view and really ought to have spotted the fact that Young was throwing himself to the floor at every opportunity. Dreadful stuff all round.

Bent had a shot deflected wide. Gabbidon barely put in a challenge on Collons from the corner but Ginge headed over.

We were showing little going forward and, with the calls for the introduction of Ba getting ever louder a change was finally made when Obinna, who had produced little of note, was replaced by, er, Zavon Hines. Things got worse for us a few minutes later when, in a rare sortie forwards, O'Neil was challenged on the edge of the box by Reo-Coker. The challenge got the ball but the follow-through connected with O'Neil's ankle and looked painful even from 80 yards away. Lengthy treatment was required and the writing was on the wall when the unfortunate midfielder managed to stand up at one stage only to collapse to the floor immediately. Eventually the stretcher came on and O'Neil's match - and possibly season was over. Ba was the eventual replacement.

That was about the only thing that changed though. A duff clearance from Green gave the ball to Young (A) who, in a rare moment of staying on his feet, took advantage of our apparent fear of straying into the same time zone as him lest a free-kick be given to curl a shot past the far post - though Green had it covered.

We had a rare chance. Cole got the better of the defence on the end of a long ball out from Green. However, the striker snatched at the chance and put it wide when a bit of composure wouldn't have gone amiss with Friedel effectively stranded. Cole then found himself on the end of a good old-fashioned two-handed shove from Collins on the edge of the box. This was spotted and a free-kick awarded a few feet outside the box. The players with the longest and shortest names in the team lined up (alongside the mid-ranking Noble) for the opportunity to have a go. In the end, to save reporters time should the shot be successful, Ba won the vote but his shot along the ground, whilst eluding the wall, failed to carry sufficient power to cause any loss of sleep in the Friedel household.

So with a point there on the board to take if we could see out 4 minutes of stoppage what happened? Yup, we blew it. Green turned away a shot from Downing but the defence failed to react to the loose ball. Young wa;tzed through a series of non-challenges and clipped the ball back to the (yet again unsurprisingly) unmarked Agbonlahor whose unchallenged header gave the visitors all three points. We sort of made an effort in last two minutes of stoppage but it was far too little too late.

So a defeat that leaves us right in the cart as they say. The last three matches now are looking to be crucial - few will see us getting much at Chelsea or Man City and even then we may be relying on others. Frankly if we're still in with a shout on the last day then fine but on this showing I'll be surprised if that's the case.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Some fine saves kept us in the match but his distribution was often worryingly wayward.

Lars Jacobsen
Poor both defensively and going forward.

Wayne Bridge
Gave the very average Downing far too much respect.

Manuel Da Costa
Victim of a nasty late challenge by Bent he played little part in the match.

Matthew Upson
Gave Bent the freedom of E13.

Thomas Hitzlsperger
Another who was off the boil. Maybe the absence of Parker left him confused as to his role.

Mark Noble
Just when we needed him to stand up and be counted in the absence of Parker he disappeared.

Gary O Neil
Fighting a losing battle in midfield up to the point when he got that horrible-looking knock.

Victor Obinna
I'd honestly forgotten he was playing until I had to write this.

Robbie Keane
'He's even worse than Kovac' suggested Upton Girlie. No. However he was another who disappeared from view in the second half. Took the goal well.

Carlton Cole
Huffed and puffed to little effect though to be fair he had no real service.


Danny Gabbidon
(Replaced Da Costa, 14 mins) Another who looked like he'd rather have been anywhere else.

Zavon Hines
(Replaced Obinna, 58 mins) A couple of unintelligent runs into blind alley territory. That was it.

Demba Ba
(Replaced O'Neil, 62 mins) Didn't really get into the game. Maybe if he'd had a bit more time perhaps?

Ruud Boffin
Did not play.

Jonathan Spector
Did not play.

Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.

Frederic Piquionne
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lars Jacobsen, Wayne Bridge, Manuel Da Costa, Matthew Upson, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Mark Noble, Gary O Neil, Victor Obinna, Robbie Keane, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Robbie Keane 2                  .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Aston Villa: Friedal, Walker, Collins, Dunne, L.Young, Reo-COker, Petrov, Downing, A.Young, Bent, Heskey .

Subs not used: Marshall, Makoun, Clark, Cuellar, Albrighton, Pires, .

Goals: Bent (36), Agbonlahor (90+1).

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mark Halsey.

Attendance: 25,857.

Man of the Match: Robert Green.