Aston Villa (1), West Ham (4) – Villa in a free-fall

Villa fans did their best to suggest that they had full confidence in their team as they took on West Ham at Villa Park late on Sunday.  In fact, there was a buzz at the inclusion of Leon Bailey, his first start in the Premier League.  His substitute performance at Villa Park against Everton, spotting an assist and a stunning goal, was a big factor in that reaction.

The buzz took a hit in the 7th minutes when Rice arced a pass wide to the right for Johnson.  All he did was cut inside Targett who had allowed the young right back lots of room and Bailey was equally loose in closing down the Hammers’ academy graduate.   Inside the penalty area with a view of the far post, he decided to give it a go.  A sweet low left-footed strike, that Bailey waved a foot at, found the net just inside the far post with Martinez too short and too late.  Aston Villa 0, West Ham 1.

If that wasn’t demoralizing enough, Villa lost likable and lively Jacob Ramsey (their goal scorer against Arsenal last time out) with a freak and painful roll of his ankle.  Ashley Young replaced him.  It was in the 15th minute.  Young was first noted by his absence.  When a cross came from the right, Targett challenged but Young failed to cover the open wing.

Two minutes later, Arsenal almost added to their lead as lively Bowen got onto a loose ball in the penalty area and hammered two shots in succession off Cash.  The first came right back to him and the second one Cash deflected wide saving a certain goal.

The natives started to get restless, and their team was doing nothing to ease their fears.  Uncertain and lacking in confidence, clearances were haphazard and led to more pressure.  The crowds’ anxiety pervaded the stadium and the field.

Then, in an instant the crowd was erupting with joy.  Young found McGinn, open on the right and Buendia cut across the penalty area where McGinn could lead him with a gentle pass.  Fornals appeared to have the Argentine boxed out but when Buendia turned around him and into the area the Spaniard let him go, presumably concerned about accidently tripping and giving up a penalty kick.

Buendia looked up and saw Bailey heading into the 6-yard box.  The pass was perhaps a touch too slow, and it caught the back of Bailey’s foot and, fortuitously became a perfect pass to Watkins waiting in space 12 yards from the goal.

Ollie knows that quickness works better than power and, with Fabianski struggling to reset after setting himself for a shot from Bailey, the goalie was unable to move to the shot that was only a couple of feet away.  This was a typical, pre-Ings, Watkins’s goal.  His expression seemed to suggest that, without his unrequested helper, he could do quite nicely, thank you very much.  He gathered the ball out of the back of the net as if to suggest he wanted to quickly get another opportunity while he could. Aston Villa 1, West Ham, in the 34th minute.

West Ham had other ideas and sprung another attack on Villa’s goal and, but for Konsa’s, timely block, Antonio’s shot from close-in would have challenged Martinez.  As it was, the shot deflected over the bar with enough topspin to land on the top of the net.  Great defensive play.

Having withstood the dangerous Antonio, provided a certain confidence in our Villans defense that was to only last a minute or so.  Benrahma was fed the ball on the left, but sensed he was not going to get much satisfaction out of Cash and Konsa so he turned inside.  Making himself available and noticed, Declan Rice had found plenty of room in the inside-right channel.  The England international did well to control the ball, set and strike it before Young could close him down. 

From close to 30-yards, Martinez should have been able to tip it around the post.  Perhaps he was unsighted, or his reflexes were slightly jet-lagged, but most fans were stunned to see the ball go into the back of the net, as were his teammates. Aston Villa 1, West Ham 2 in the 38th minute.

If Villa could somehow manufacture another equalizer before the half, the game (and perhaps the season) might have a different trajectory.  Reassuringly, our Villans threatened with McGinn getting on the end of a Targett cross just 10 yards out, but his header was weak and wide. Then, just before halftime, McGinn drove toward the West Ham box and let go a right-footed shot, Rice-like, except John’s was scuffed wide of the lest post.

In between, a Young cross was on its way for Cash to put his noggin on, only for a retreating Rice to get enough with his head to divert the ball away and out of danger.  Damn!

The second half brought no joy.  In the 47th minute Buendia, Nakamba, Young, and Targett were pedantic in their passing in the inside-left channel, inviting an interception and a counterattack.  Sure enough, Young gets caught in possession by Bowens who beats Targett to the loose ball and pass to Fornals who only has Antonio ahead of him.

Meanwhile, Cash, Konsa, and Hause are well positioned to defend.  Hause makes the first mistake by putting a foot in to dispossess the ball-carrier, clattering him without getting the ball that runs ahead with Konsa competing with Antonio and Bowen cutting in from the wing.  With Hause behind the play and Antonio keeping the ball heading towards Bowen, a little ahead of him, Konsa tries to slow the speedy forward down with flagrantly fouling. 

When Bowens went down just outside the area, VAR checks on both Villa center backs were reviewed.  Both could have been red carded.  Since Konsa’s was preventing an opportunity to score, he was picked with little argument from players or the manager.

At that, Mings came on to replace Buendia (and Konsa).  That suggested Smith’s lack of confidence in the Argentine as anything.  The fans seemed somewhat relieved that Tyrone was back, and with the captain’s armband.  That was at 53 minutes and only a few minutes, Watkins almost tied the game.  That would have stunned the Hammers and, possibly, let Villa steal a point and those invaluable good vibes.

It started with McGinn latching onto a loose ball from a corner and doing one of his spinneramas so he could stand up a cross for Watkins who rose and thumped a header over Fabianski.  Instead of the ball ricocheting off the underside of the bar and into the back of the net, it came in contact with the goalie’s outstretched fingertips, onto the bar and back into play.  A brilliant save by the Polish international keeper in the 57th minute.

Villa continued to press with Watkins and Nakamba leading the way.  In the 77th minute, when Nakamba was just about to release El Ghazi (brought on to replace Bailey in the 72nd minute), Fornals slid in, missed the ball, and injured the Zimbabwean.  The whistle blew and the referee gave West Ham two yellow cards, to Fornals for the dangerous tackle and Bowen for throwing McGinn to the ground.

What Chris Kavanagh did not do was return the momentum to the Villa.  Shortly after Nakamba completed his treatment and rejoined to the game only for Rice to punt the ball to the halfway line.  Targett did what he could to get the to ball ahead of Antonio but the Jamaican international was too strong and headed it on for Bowen to run onto.  With no defender in front of him, he was able to lash a shot low to Martinez’s right only for our keeper display his true form and strong right hand.  Unfortunately, Fornals arrived in time to tap the rebound into the open net. Aston Villa 1, West Ham 3 in the 80th minute.

Five minutes later the Hammers added insult to injury when they put together some pretty passes in the penalty area for Bowen to complete with a tap-in goal. Aston Villa 1, West Ham 4.

Villa did their best to show their fans appreciation and some semblance of pride, but they looked a bedraggled bunch with no idea where that next win will come from.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Konsa, Cash, Targett, Hause, McGinn, Nakamba, J Ramsey (Young 15′), Watkins, Bailey (El Ghazi 72′), Buendía (Mings 52′).

Unused Subs: Steer, Tuanzebe, Carney Chukwuemeka, Davis, Archer, A Ramsey.

West Ham: Fabianski, Johnson, Zouma, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Bowen (Vlasic 91′), Soucek, Fornals (Coufal 91′), Rice, Benrahma (Lanzini 64′), Antonio.

Unused Subs: Areola, Noble, Yarmolenko, Masuaku, Dawson, Diop.

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