In football terms the match between Aston Villa and West Ham United would have lost out to a 2013 “naked” Quasimodo calendar in the beauty stakes, but Villa fans won’t care one iota. Sunday’s game was all about securing victory, irrelevant of the manner in which it may come about. With that said a rare win for Paul Lambert’s young team was less Quasimodo and more Esmeralda in terms of a precious three points gained.
Three points is such a rare commodity for Aston Villa that since their last Premier League victory Jose Bosingwa has earned himself approximately £520,000 for listening to his ipod in a lonely corner of the QPR team canteen. It was December 15th when Villa last won in the Premiership, after an impressive 3-1 away victory againstLiverpool.
Further wins looked to be on the horizon when Villa held impressive two goal leads against WBA and Everton in recent weeks, only to see their leads slip away in the dying moments. Strangely it took a game that for 74 minutes Villa looked incapable of getting near the opponents net to actually come away with victory.
Apart from the first five minutes, when Andreas Weimann should have scored, Aston Villa were largely disgusting. Big Sam responded with a change of formation and West Ham began to take control of the game, even though the early indicators had suggested that they were there for the taking.
Weimann lacked confidence since his early miss, Delph consistently lost the ball, Benteke became a passenger and Jordan Bowery simply caused Villa fan’s to conclude ‘what the hell was Paul Lambert thinking?’ With Gabby Agbonlahor ill the £500,000 summer signing from Chesterfield was chosen as Villa’s wide man, ahead of the likes of Stephen Ireland, Brett Holman or new ‘loanee’ Simon Dawkins. Yet more telling of all Villa’s £24m record signing Darren Bent was still deemed as a lesser threat than the former League Two man.
Bowery looked completely out of his depth, especially being played out of position. In fact Villa looked out of their depth, with West Ham bossing the game despite a lacklustre performance themselves. It wasn’t until the introduction of Bent and Dawkins (for Bowery and Weimann) that Villa began to liven up. It took Charles N’Zogbia, the main Villa threat this game, to gift his team a lifeline by falling in the box under a Mark Noble challenge. The ref pointed to the spot and Villa’s man of the season Christian Benteke sent Villa Park into relieved rapture.
Four minutes later Charles N’Zogbia finally did something memorable in his so far non existent Villa career. He curled the ball, over a non jumping wall, into the top corner of Jaaskelainen’s net to stake a claim to be Villa’s regular free kick taker. It was a goal that caused Villa fan Stan Collymore to projectile ejaculate live on Talksport air, an act equally matched by the euphoria of the entire Holte End.
A 2-0 lead doesn’t mean much for Villa fans these days, but against West Ham they at long last sensed victory. Still, watching Villa trying to defend any kind of lead is terrifying viewing and horror set in when Westwood looped a header over his own goalkeeper with three minutes of normal time remaining.
Throughout the match Villa’s fans sarcastically cheered any clearance that successfully exited their penalty area. Clarke followed up his man of the match performance for the Republic of Ireland mid week by acting as Villa’s best defender in this game. Lambert’s decision to play Baker at left back also provided Villa with more height in attempts to quash the Hammers aerial onslaught.
It took two last ditch saves from Villa keeper Brad Guzan to secure victory. In a game where West Ham were possibly the better team, whilst being poor themselves, Lambert would have been crucified by Villa fans if they hadn’t won, solely due to his decision to play Jordan Bowery out wide from the offset. Instead it was Big Sam’s turn to be angry, "Apart from the Aston Villa fans, anyone who watched this afternoon knows we deserved something. The sad thing is, after not converting our chances, we have paid the price by conceding from a free-kick and a penalty.”
With Villa’s main relegation rivals all losing on Saturday it was a win that has moved them out of the relegation zone by one point. The two unlikely goals scored were also as many goals as Villa have scored in their previous 7 games at home. With Arsenal and Man City up next it is likely that Villa will slip back into the relegation zone over the next couple of weeks. The back to back games against QPR and Reading afterwards are the crucial games for Villa.
Before the game Paul Lambert had said that he would take playing ugly for a 1-0 win. On Sunday he got his wish, albeit with a 2-1 win. If Paul Lambert’s men go on to be the ugliest team in football history I’m sure that most Villa fan’s would take it in return for securing Premiership safety.
image: © Ben Sutherland