Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 0

Saturday, 6th October 2007
by East Stand Martin

It was like the cave of wonders. Ali Baba’s takeaway just down the road from Villa Park. One local said that Kapil Dev was serving, which was welcome as “you need to be an allrounder to work in there”. Open Sesame as doner kebab and chips smothered in chilli sauce slipped down a right treat.

I have a pathological dislike of Birmingham which stems from the time I went up there and contracted chicken pox. Don't ask me how I picked that up but I looked like Ben Hur's sister. No f*cker brought me any provisions in the leper colony though; the whole world was giving me the body swerve. Couldn't blame them to be honest.

No nutter with putter

The team's looked totally different since Bellamy's been sidelined and once again the Welshman was absent. At the moment this just loads more pressure on a semi-fit Ashton as he ends up being partnered by second-string strikers. Also out was Ferdinand and this led to a central defence of Upson and Gabbidon with the ever dependable McCartney down the left and the recently less dependable Neill down the right. On the plus side, Matty was back, with Mullins and Bowyer in central midfield and Freddie down the right.

There was a cheery greeting for Reo-Coker from the travelling support and this was matched by the home fans for Upson because of his Birmingham City connections. "You're just a short Paul Ince".

The danger was always going to come down the West Ham right with the dangerous Young ranging along the touchline and so it proved as early as six minutes in, when a chance in the box was engineered for Moore, but he missed it.

No Argie

Mullins, who deserved to start given recent displays stroked a pretty pass out to Matty on 8 minutes and he fired in a dangerous looking cross which ended up in the back of net thanks to a poorly executed Maradona "hand of God" by Camara. It was easily spotted by the ref and it ended in a booking for unsporting behaviour.

Three minutes later Green was tested by a shot to his right by Moore following a surge through the middle by Gareth Barry and just after this Young looked like he had a decent penalty shout after he did Neill for pace but ref Steve Tanner was disinterested.

Camara showed some good skills and ran forward out of his own half on 18 minutes. He was close to feeding a great ball out right and the rebound from the failed pass arrived at Matty's feet but his far post cross was just too far for Ashton.

On 20 minutes, Camara made another good run down the right and shielded the ball well to allow Mullins to drive forward and pick up a square pass, but his shot was poor.


Then on 22 minutes, a tussle on the edge of the box between Gabbidon and Agbonlahor saw a free kick awarded. Gabs didn't look too pleased with the ref, but it was one of those decisions that can go either way. I said to the bloke next to me that it would be a goal and I was proved right as the powerful shot from Gardner cannoned of Gabbidon and into the net with Green looking like he had it covered.

Two minutes after the goal, it looked like Freddie might have stolen in at the far post following a cross from the left, but his stretched header was straight at the 'keeper.

For the next five minutes of the game around the half hour we were getting crucified down our right with Young causing most of the trouble. On a couple of occasions, a more quality final ball would have resulted in a goal, but somehow we kept Villa out.

Anti Antipodean

Then came the unlikely news from France that England had turned over the convicts which led to a joint Irons/Villain chorus of "Swing low sweet chariot". I'm no rugby fan but I suffered a lot of taunts from the kangaroo-shaggers during the Ashes down under, and it must have been sweet to have given it large to the marsupial-worriers. I shall keep that one for the next time we face the enemy at cricket as the chant "20 points to 17" always used to wind the f*ckers up a right treat.

Apologies to down under Hammers, by the way, but your fellow countrymen are largely tw*ts in my humble experience although I do concede that most bars in London would shut down without 'em.

Ljungberg was having an industrious game and on 33 minutes he did well down the right to feed a ball into the box for Bowyer whose shot was well blocked. Two minutes after this, Zat Knight was booked for taking Ashton's feet out from under him and Camara was substituted by Cole seemingly because he had just joined the ever-growing injury list.

Matty nearly latched onto a back pass on 37 minutes and it looked like he got something on it as the ball hit the 'keeper. The last action of note was on 44 minutes when George McCartney made a great cross from a very tight position, but Ashton couldn't turn in the box and shoot. A corner was won but this ended up being headed over.

It was a half which Villa shaded thanks to the set piece and the greater threat posed down their left side. A more clinical approach in front of goal might have seen us more than one down, whilst we created few real opportunities.


The second half began with no changes on either side and the biggest cheer of the match so far came on 54 minutes as Reo Coker saw yellow for a tackle from behind on Bowyer. Then a minute later the chance of the match arrived for West Ham as good work down the right by Ljungberg saw him whip in a cross to the far post and two defenders get in each other's way. The ball dropped to Cole, who could only thud a free shot into the ground allowing Carson to make an easy save.

Ljungberg followed with another fine run just after this and sent Matty on his way with a run into the box, but his shot was cut out.
Cole was looking for an opening, but sliced a shot horribly wide on 59 minutes, after a rapid exchange of passes. Two minutes after this, Ljungberg made more progress down the right but his nice chip into the box was headed wide by Bowyer.

Part of the problem for West Ham was that consistent attempts to launch balls down the middle to try and achieve Ashton flick-ons were largely cut out by the excellent Laursen. Deano looked more and more miserable as the half wore on.

Lion's share

West Ham had the lion's share of possession but the end product was lacking. Villa, meanwhile had nothing like the pace and penetration that they enjoyed in the first half, and it took until 75 minutes before they created any real opportunity when Young fired in a raking cross which seemed to hit Upson's arm and then evade a striker sliding in at the far post.

Ljungberg was the creator again on 76 minutes as he put in a great ball to Cole's feet as he ran diagonally across the box. He tried a first time shot which he scooped over the bar much to the anguish of the increasingly frustrated travelling support.

It was last chance saloon time and Curbishley swapped Mullins and Matty for Boa and Noble with 11 minutes of ordinary time left, but their introduction made little impact. In fact, it was a mistake by the normally faultless McCartney which let Agbonlahor have the best chance in the remaining time, but Green - who any half wit can see is streets ahead of Paul Robinson in the England goalkeeping stakes - made a great save with his feet as he spread his body.

The last move by West Ham came in time added on as one last ball over the top was sent over by Boa Morte, but none of the strike force could get near the ball to try and turn it in.

Three in a row

That's three defeats on the bounce and they have been due to facing difficult opponents home and away as well as suffering injuries to key players. It was not a great spectacle, and you can see why the manager made his later claim that we might have merited a draw.

Villa did drop deep in that second half, but we were unable to punish their lack of adventure. They defended pretty comfortably as we created few chances on the back of a lot of possession. We relied largely on Ljungberg to be the creative spark but we had a front two that could not profit from the few chances we created. Ashton in particular did not look at all fit. The killer counterattacking pace is not there at the moment and we need it back.

I did have to bite my tongue on the way out as I saw some Doris in our end wearing an Australian rugby shirt. I gave her the benefit of the doubt which under normal circumstances would not have happened. Obviously a fan of Lucas Neill.

It was a disappointing day out, but I think that we also learnt that Villa are unlikely to be challenging for Europe on the basis of that performance. We now face an important game at home where hopefully some of our players can move off the treatment table to try and get us back on track.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
A decent performance from England's real number one.

Lucas Neill
Still far from the player we saw at the tail-end of last season.

George McCartney
Worked hard to keep the opposition at bay. Picked up a knock late on.

Danny Gabbidon
His first start of the season, looked a little ring-rusty.

Matthew Upson
One of his best performances of the season so far.

Lee Bowyer
More than held his own against bad boy Reo-Coker.

Hayden Mullins
Brought in for his experience, a decent effort.

Freddie Ljungberg
Just about his best effort for his new club. Clearly far fitter than he was a month ago.

Matthew Etherington
Whipped in some good balls but too often on the periphery.

Henri Camara
Lasted 36 minutes before succumbing to injury. No signs that he'll be anything but a bit-part player.

Dean Ashton
Not really at the races and injured late on.


Carlton Cole
(replaced Camara, 36) Missed three good chances - our best of the game. Gets into good positions but needs to work on his finishing.

Mark Noble
(replaced Mullins, 80) Barely had a chance to nip at Reo-Coker's ankles.

Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Etherington, 81) Made no major impression in the few minutes he played.

Richard Wright
Did not play.

James Collins
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Danny Gabbidon, Matthew Upson, Lee Bowyer, Hayden Mullins, Freddie Ljungberg, Matthew Etherington, Henri Camara, Dean Ashton.

Goals: None.

Booked: Henri Camara 9 George McCartney 73        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Aston Villa: Carson, Mellberg, Laursen, Bouma, Knight, Gardner, Reo-Coker, Barry, Young, Moore, Agbonlahor.

Subs not used: Taylor, Davies, Osbourne.

Goals: Gardner (24).

Booked: Knight (36), Reo-Coker (55), Mellberg (68).

Sent off: None.

Referee: S.Tanner.

Attendance: 40,824.

Man of the Match: Freddie Ljungberg.