We’ve heard it all before. So, so many times it has been repeated over and over. How football is a funny old game, how you don`t always get what you deserve, and how cruel the beautiful game can often be.
Excuse me though if I don`t shed a tear for West Ham United this morning. Yes they arguably had the better of the exchanges in yesterday evenings encounter, and they most certainly created the more clear cut opportunities, however at the end of the ninety minutes plus of action at Upton Park, the simple fact remains that they, on their home turf, couldn’t put away any of their chances against a decidedly below par Villa team, allowing us to do what good teams very often do. Namely ride their luck when the going gets tough, enjoy a break or two, and eventually walk off the field at the end of the game, with three more valuable points tucked nicely away in Martin’s back pocket.
We didn’t play well. For whatever reason we never got into our stride, this despite a reasonably bright start. We fell away as the second half progressed, leaving a fairly average looking home team looking to be the more likely scorers, but somehow we managed to hang in there, thanks mainly to the excellent Brad Friedel, aided by some woeful finishing from Carlton Cole and co, before a deflected Jimmy Milner cross-cum-shot looped over the stranded Robert Green, with just twelve minutes left to play.
Unlucky? Maybe. Harsh? Not really. Upton Park has never been one of our favourite hunting grounds, indeed off-hand I can only recall us winning there on three occasions in ‘my time’, there might be others, but if so, then they’ve slipped this ageing mind. There’s certainly been times though when our efforts in deepest, darkest east London, have deserved more rewards than have actually come our way.
So, let me introduce another of those famous old clichés into the equation here, by saying that things have a habit of balancing themselves out, what goes around comes around. Today was our day, and I’m not going to make any apologies for it.
We arrived in London bright and early, stopping off at a long time good friends home in Twickenham, so the morning was spent listening in amusement to the 101 reasons that Roy Hodgson is the best manager currently operating in the premiership, and why Fulham are definitely going to clinch a UEFA Cup spot come seasons end.
We accepted his invitation to leave our car at his home, take the underground over to Upton Park, and then return to his home post game to celebrate victories by both his and our lot, by raising a glass or two, before we made the return journey back to Brum.
Wonder how the post game festivities would have gone down had we both suffered reversals.
Anyway I digress. Onto the stadium, where thankfully, not a ‘fringe’ outfit was in sight. Not of course that we’d expected to find one. Mart had returned to the tried and trusted, the warriors who have seen us through many recent battles, our line-up reading as follows:-
Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, Curtis Davies, Martin Laursen, Luke Young, Stan Petrov, Jimmy Milner, Steve Sidwell, Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor.
Subs: Eventually Not Used: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Knight, Shorey, Gardner.
Reo-Coker replaced Cuellar on the hour.
It took us a little while to get our act together, but before long Gabby and Ash started to cause problems for the home team, and on the thirty-minute mark Ash should have put us ahead, collecting a back pass from Scotty Parker, rounded Rob Green, but then sent his shot, from a difficult angle, against the far post. Green then saved from Gareth and Milly, and a Villa goal looked on the cards, but into the break we went at 0-0.
The second half got underway, with The Irons pressing forward, playing a similar style of the one touch, precision football, often also witnessed at The Hawthorns, but sadly for Zola and co, resulting in the same end product as the devout Baggie followers have to suffer.
Whose idea at Upton Park was it to give Carlton Cole a five year contract? What was the thinking behind that decision? And they say they haven’t got money to throw away!!
Chances came and went for the pink and washed out blues, prompting my buddy to comment, ‘This lot wont score if the game goes on all night’. I always worry when he makes such statements. The same words were uttered at St James Park, minutes before Martins opened the scoring up there.
Carlos Cuellar was replaced on the hour mark by the ex Upton Park favourite (I jest of course, but I’m sure I saw our very own Moderator, ’57, leading the booing and jeering) Nigel Reo-Coker, but we continued to remain on the back-foot.
The game had goal-less draw written all over it, but Ash did manage to pull a shot wide to remind us that the points were there for the taking, if only we could find some inspiration from somewhere to breach The Hammers rearguard.
But then it happened. Ash ran at the West Ham defence, fed Milly, who with a deflection off Neill, sent the ball over Green, and the Good-Guys took the lead.
West Ham had one final chance in the closing minutes, Davenport once again being denied by that man Friedel.
No it wasn’t pretty, yes we were far, far from our best, but that`s another away victory to our credit, and more importantly three more points.
Are we safe from the drop yet?
Right, my ‘MotM’ scores, then at almost 4.00 a.m., its off to bed.
Goodnight, and Merry Christmas.
Friedel – 8
Cuellar – 6
Laursen – 7
Davies – 6
Luke Young – 7
Stan Petrov – 6
Jimmy Milner – 6
Steve Sidwell -6
Gareth Barry -7
Ashley Young -7
Gabby Agbonlahor – 6
Nigel Reo-Coker – 6
On for Cuellar 58th minute