Aston Villa 1–0 West Ham United
Brian Jeeves reporting from Villa Park
Turning the clock back to May 9, 2015, and a frustrating afternoon for Sam Allardyce and his charges against FA Cup finalists, Aston Villa, themselves fighting for their Premier League lives…
Revitalised England midfielder, Tom Cleverley, grabbed an all-important first-half winner as relegation-threatened Aston Villa condemned West Ham United to more away-day misery on a dramatic afternoon at Villa Park.
FA Cup finalists Villa have picked up since the appointment of Tim Sherwood in the managers’ hot seat. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder had seen his charges pick up six points from the last nine on offer, and climb four places above the Premier League drop zone. Nevertheless, with just two points separating Villa from third-bottom Sunderland, the multitude of this contest wasn’t lost on Sherwood, his players or the Holte End regulars.
West Ham’s season has seemingly petered out. Mark Noble’s first-half penalty against bottom of the table Burnley seven days previous, had earned Sam Allardyce’ men only their third Premier League win of 2015. Buoyed by this, the Hammers arrived in the West Midlands looking for back-to-back victories for the first time since West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City were beaten way back in early December.
With relegation rivals Sunderland picking up a surprise victory at Everton in the early game, there was a nervy atmosphere amongst the home support. But it was Villa who started the brighter, going close when Leandro Bacuna’s dead-ball effort just cleared the bar, then Ron Vlaar was snubbed out by some last-ditch Hammers defending following a Jack Grealish flag kick from the left.
Villa continued to ask the sterner questions. Hammers goalkeeper Adrian was forced to palm away Tom Cleverley’s vicious drive after Charles N’Zogbia had centred, while Christian Benteke couldn’t quite direct his effort goalwards after finding some room behind the West Ham rear-guard.
West Ham hadn’t ventured forward too much during early exchanges, but when they did Vlaar did well to deal with Aaron Cresswell’s deep cross, then Bacuna managed to get a vital toe in as Enner Valencia looked set to pull the trigger.
Skipper Fabian Delph looked to get Villa going again, but his low drive only found Adrian’s gloves. And just after the half-hour mark, they made the breakthrough. Tom Cleverley poked home his third goal in as many matches after the exhilarating Grealish had shown Carl Jenkinson a clean pair of heels and drove in from the left.
West Ham were stunned, but almost drew level immediately when Morgan Amalfitano’s in-swinging corner agonisingly deceived a clutch of potential takers. At the other end, Adrian dealt expertly with Ashley Westwood’s curling attempt as Villa looked to double their advantage.
Hammers boss Allardyce looked to shake things up, introducing Alex Song and Nene into the fray for the second period. And it was the latter who almost restored parity when his thundering strike from distance just cleared the crossbar. Villa responded, but N’Zogbia fired into the side netting after escaping the attentions of Cresswell.
But West Ham were coming more into the contest. Shay Given spectacularly tipped over James Collins header, following Mark Noble’s pinpoint corner, then Nene whipped an attempt just off target as the visitors continued to press menacingly.
Hammers fans thought they’d draw level when Valencia headed beyond Given, but their joy was short-lived after a hawkeyed assistant ruled the goal off-side.
As the half wore on Villa’s edginess was clearly getting through to the crowd who had become somewhat agitated, and their frustrations grew when Westwood’s strike was wayward after a sustained spell of pressure.
In the burning embers, Gabriel Agbonlahor should have sealed the points when bursting clear following a simply exquisite pass from Grealish, while Cleverley warmed Adrian’s hands with a stinging drive. It was a hugely relieved Villa Park crowd that greeted referee Lee Mason’s full-time whistle, while the contingent of travelling Hammers’ fans were left to contemplate another frustrating afternoon on the road.
West Ham United face Everton in their final home Barclays Premier League game of the season next Saturday, May 16, kick-off 3pm.
Aston Villa: Shay Given, Ron Vlaar, Jores Okore, Leandro Bacuna (Alan Hutton 77′), Tom Cleverley, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph (Capt), Kieran Richardson, Christian Benteke, Charles N’Zogbia (Gabriel Agbonlahor 71′), Jack Grealish (Carlos Sanchez 90′) Subs not used: Brad Guzan, Andreas Weimann, Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos.
Booked: Charles N’Zogbia (foul)
Goals: Tom Cleverley 31′
West Ham United: Adrian, Aaron Cresswell, Kevin Nolan (Nene 46′) (Capt), Cheikhou Kouyate, Stewart Downing, Mark Noble (Carlton Cole 78′), Carl Jenkinson, James Collins, Morgan Amalfitano (Alex Song 46′), Enner Valencia, Reece Burke Subs not used: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Matt Jarvis, Joey O’Brien, Josh Cullen.
Booked: Alex Song (foul)
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistants: Andrew Halliday and Derek Eaton
Fourth Official: Michael Dean