West Ham (2), Aston Villa (1) – Villa Lose their Clinical Edge and the Game

This was a game that Villa could have won and should have won.  Our Villans had the same statistical advantages as in the previous three games that they won.  That would include shots, shots on target, possession, pass accuracy, and even corners.

Credit to West Ham for making the most of their 4 shots on goal and making sure that each one of our 7 shots on goal was contested. Zouma was West Ham’s best defender and almost scored at the other end.

From the kickoff it appeared that our Villans had enough swagger to overcome the Hammers’ resilience.  Coutinho and Watkins were confidently buzzing around the Londoners’ penalty and looking dangerous.  In fact, the first opportunity fell to Danny Ings in the 4th minute when he received a pass from Matty Cash.  He was open in the penalty only to fail to control and watch the ball roll safely to the keeper.

A couple of minutes later Benrahma was set-up nicely by Cresswell and he tested Martinez with a quick shot that Emi was prepared for.  Next Antonio pushed off Luiz and fed Fornals heading up the middle.  The Spaniard had time to set for a long-range drive because Digne was forced to respect Johnson steaming up outside of our French fullback.

With Mings pulling over to block the shot, Fornals ran out of time, and had to rush his shot, dragging it wide of Martinez’s right-hand post.

Then, in the 16th minute, Digne, who had hardly been in the game, went down with a muscle issue in his thigh and Ashley Young came on to substitute.  The speed advantage that we had had with Bowen’s loss due to injury was immediately offset.  That limited on offense also, where Lucas’s speed could have stretched the Hammers’ defense.

On the game restart, that was not an immediate concern, as Watkins used his speed to exploit a sloppy play between Dawson and Johnson.  That allowed Ollie to jump in, steal the ball, execute a give and go with Ings, and be, momentarily, one-on-one with Fabianski.  Coincidental with Watkins’ strike of the ball was the sliding foot of Soucek that probably save a goal.  A great play by the Czech.

Young’s loss of pace did come into play, soon after, when he could not get a cross over from the goal line ahead of a block by Johnson.  That led to a change of possession and for the next minutes, both teams were effective in breaking up their opponents’ efforts.  That was until the 19th minute when Watkins robbed Zouma of possession on Villa’s right wing in Villa’s half and slipped a pass inside to Coutinho who deftly slid a superb pass down the touchline for Watkins to run onto.  With Cresswell out of the play, Rice had to chase back.

Ollie was able to get a pass to Ings on the edge of the area and Danny immediately laid it off to Coutinho who passed it on to Ramsey.  At this stage the youngster still had four defenders between him and a shot on goal.  Sensibly, he carried the ball around the group to his left and pulled a pass back and into the 6-yard box for Coutinho to run onto.  As Fabianski and Zouma slid between the Brazilian and the goal, Phillippe let the ball pass between his legs and redirected with the inside of his left foot.

The ball rolled up Fabianski’s legs and over his body before it rolled just wide of the left post for a corner while Coutinho rolled after it.  Close, but no cigar.  Still, an excellent move all around.

The rest of the half featured robust play by the Hammers with our Villans taking the brunt of it.  Matty Cash was pole-axed by an attempted cross that hit the side of his head.  Calum Chambers actually needed stitches to the side of his head.  Worst of all, Douglas Luiz was kicked in the face by Manuel Lanzini doing considerable damage to his appearance and to his mouth.  Remarkably, he stayed in the game.

Of note, was Soucek’s diving header that went just wide of Martinez’s right post.  Chambers certainly contributed to keeping the effort “off-target” clashing heads with the Czech.  That was as close as the Hammers came to scoring in the first half.

At the break, both teams must have felt satisfied with their performance, with our Villans more disappointed that neither of their two efforts (Watkins’ and Coutinho’s) yielded a goal.  Their previous three wins had all featured halftime leads.

The most significant event of the second half was Antonio’s attempt to relieve Jacob Ramsey of the ball, the youngster brushed him off and, worse still, his effort caused Antonio to injure his thigh.  He came off shortly thereafter to be replace by the Ukrainian international, Andriy Yarmolenko.

Under normal circumstances, our Villans would have welcomed the removal of the multi-talented Antonio, excellent striker, industrious forager, and major assist-provider.  Truth be told, he had been well-marshaled by Chambers and never looked dangerous while the introduction of Yarmolenko caused a spontaneous round of support from the crowd, channeling their collective sympathy for Andriy’s country that is under siege.

Our Villans did not appear to be distracted and the next opportunity came to them courtesy of Coutinho being able to run at the West Ham defense from wide on the left, initially unimpeded.  As soon as he came within range, Soucek, Dawson, and Rice converged, and shot was too hurried to have any power or direction.

Then, in the 56th minute Ings came closest to either side scoring.  Lined up at the near post, he headed away from the goal for a low drive of a corner by McGinn.  The spinning ball defied a defensive effort to clear, and Ings was on it, shooting as he spun.  The drive was typical Ings.  Starting with his back to the goal, he gathered the ball, turned 180 degrees, and hit the ball with his right foot.

The effect was for the ball to bounce with power and top spin toward Fabianski’s right post.  The Polish international managed to get his right hand to the ball and deflected onto the post and, fortuitously, back into his arms while he lay on his back.  Two Villans were already within a yard, hoping for the spill that never came.  An excellent save.

With both teams experiencing the effects of playing with only a two-day break. Cresswell was the next Hammer to come up limping and had to be replaced by Fredericks.

Shortly after, the Hammers almost scored, defied by an excellent reflex save from Martinez.  Fornals’ corner was on-the-money to the edge of the 6-yard box where the 6’ 3” Zouma overpowered Ramsey and Cash and sent a thunderous header toward the top of the net, only for Emi to jump and thrust up a strong hand that blocked the shot but right to Dawson who, inexplicably, headed over.  Great save, terrible miss.

The two best chances of the game, within minutes, and both from corners, were indicative of two well-matched teams.  It was also a reflection of two teams running out of steam.  Gerrard had more options, so he elected to replace a leggy Danny Ings with Leon Bailey.  This was an aggressive move to get three points and continue to move up in the standings.

Within a minute, the goal came, but not for our Villans.  When Benrahma received the ball on the left wing, instead of putting over a cross for a header, he zipped a pass to Yarmolenko, just inside the penalty area. The instant fan favorite took the pass on his right foot, span and immediately shot with the outside of his left foot.

The quickness and the bounce appeared to deceive Martinez who reached the shot but let it get by him and into the net.  The crowd and the team burst into an emotional response that held the game up for a few minutes.  West Ham 1, Aston Villa 0, in the 70th minute.

Our Villans responded positively, and Bailey tricked Rice into giving up a freekick just outside the area. Coutinho’s effort was slightly deflected by “the wall” and ended up high over the bar.  Even more impressive from Bailey was a give and go and a powerful shot that would have been very dangerous if it had been anywhere other than directly at the keeper.

Gerrards with a deficit to make up, naturally, doubled-down on offense, bringing on Buendia for Luiz in the 79th minute.  Before the Argentinian had a chance to influence the game our Villans were down by two.  When an attack faltered on the left, Rice carried the ball out from defense in his most imperious manner.  He found Benrahma on the left and, with our Villans still struggling to get back, the Algerian international picked out Fornals joining the attack on the right.

Mings tried to block his left-footed shot only to block our goalie’s view. Emi got a hand on the ball but could not stop it entering the net.  West Ham 2, Aston Villa 0, in the 82nd minute.

Encouragingly, for Villa fans, the team played the balance of the game with the belief that they could score and, possibly, tie it up.  Buendia was a livewire.  When Coutinho sprayed a pass out to Bailey on the wing, the Jamaican international cut inside and delivered a delicious curving cross, dipping at the near post.  Buendia was right there to swing his right foot and get enough to redirect, only for Fabianski to get a hand to it, pushing it out for a corner.

Buendia was not finished.  A minute later, our Villans were pressing again.  When Johnson went to clear the ball at the edge of the area, Buendia, held him off, spun and left the fullback stumbling.  With no clear sight of goal, he pulled the ball back to young Ramsey who bulged the corner of the net with a powerful and accurate drive.  Our Villans finally had the goal they had needed all game. West Ham 2, Aston Villa 1, in the 90th minute.

While Villa gave it there all, the only chance in the 6minutes of injury time fell to the feet of captain, Tyrone Mings.  Could it be a repeat of the game at Villa Park against Brighton?  No.  Mings did not bulge the back of the net.  Instead, he tried to set-up a teammate only for the pass to be intercepted.

At the final whistle, the feeling was that our Villans had needed to score first. Coming from behind with only two days rest was always going to be difficult.  Doing that against a talented and well-organized West Ham team was well-nigh impossible.

West Ham: Fabianski, Zouma, Dawson, Cresswell (Fredericks 57′), Johnson, Soucek, Rice, Lanzini, Antonio (Yarmolenko 52′), Benrahma (Diop 87′), Fornals.

Subs: Areola, Král, Noble, Masuaku, Oko-Flex, Perkins.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne (Young 10′), McGinn, Luiz (Buendía 79′), Ramsey, Coutinho, Watkins, Ings (Bailey 69′).

Unused Subs: Olsen, Sanson, Konsa, Chukwuemeka, Iroegbunam, Traoré.

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