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West Ham United 1-1 Aston Villa
WEST HAM UNITED concluded an otherwise frustrating Premier League campaign sharing of the spoils with an Aston Villa side whose need was far greater.
The West Midlanders needed to better the results of Watford and Bournemouth to remain in the top flight. Indeed, the most bizarre of circumstances meant that Dean Smith’s side could win and still face the drop, should things transpire badly elsewhere.
David Moyes had urged his charges to go out with a flourish, but remained wary of the magnitude of the situation: “I don’t expect it to be easy,” he explained.
“I think the way our players have played, we’ve done a great job to get into a safe position. We have to credit the players for that.”
While West Ham could play with a little freedom – Villa ran out with the knowledge that they’d not won on the final day of the season in eight years. And they were almost trailing in the opening minutes – Michail Antonio incredibly scuffing the wrong side of an upright after Issa Diop had played him in.
Mbwana Samatta nodded directly at Lukasz Fabianski, while John McGinn dragged wide as Villa looked to make the most of the let-off. Declan Rice – named Hammer of the Year prior to the game – twice fired wildly over from distance, as the visitors otherwise comfortably contained their minimal threat.
Jack Grealish was afforded an acre of space but drove into Fabianski’s midriff. The Villa skipper should have done better – the anxiety cranked up another notch as their fate remained in the balance.
Ben Johnson blocked from McGinn, while Samatta headed over as Villa continued to create after the restart. West Ham – possessive but not penetrative – using Johnson to create from the left – substitute Sebastien Haller a whisker away from a telling contact to the teenagers’ toil. Meanwhile, Andriy Yarmolenko wasn’t far away with a left-footed effort that rippled the rigging and Haller nodded over as the hosts began to insert themselves a little more on the contest.
Even without a crowd, you sensed the tension. Grealish tip-toed in from the right but saw his strike deflected behind – Keinan Davis even closer, driving across goal with Fabianski unable to intervene.
But then a vital breakthrough. Grealish sent a thundering effort beyond Fabianski, sparking wild senses amongst the Villa contingent. The finish line now a welcome sight for the visitors.
But the lead lasted little over a minute. Ironically, Yarmolenko’s attempt taking a huge deflection off Grealish – Pepe Reina left helpless as the ball looped into the net for the East Londoners equaliser.
With Bournemouth winning at Everton, Villa stood resolute through the final seconds. As the home side trudged away on the whistle, Smith and his side gathered and gave out a collective cry in both relief and celebration at avoiding the drop by the narrowest of margins.
West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Mark Noble (Capt) (Felipe Anderson 87’), Jarrod Bowen (Andriy Yarmolenko 46’), Pablo Fornals (Manuel Lanzini 67’), Angelo Ogbonna, Issa Diop, Ryan Fredericks, Tomas Soucek, Michail Antonio (Sebastien Haller 46’), Declan Rice, Ben Johnson Subs not used: Darren Randolph (GK), Fabian Balbuena, Jack Wilshere, Xande Silva, Conor Coventry
Booked: Michail Antonio (foul), Ryan Fredericks (foul)
Goals: Andriy Yarmolenko 86’
Aston Villa: Pepe Reina, Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, Jack Grealish (Capt), Conor Hourihane (Marvelous Nakamba 76’), Ezri Konsa Ngoyo, Trezeguet (Anwar El Ghazi 90’), Mbwana Samatta (Keinan Davis 67’), Frederic Guilbert (Kortney Hause 76’), Tyrone Mings Subs not used: Orjan Nyland (GK), Neil Taylor, Henri Lansbury, Jota, Indiana Vassilev
Booked: Mbwana Samatta (foul)
Goals: Jack Grealish 84’
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett
Fourth Official: Robert Jones
Reaction to follow…