Attendance: 30 503
I am struggling to find my game face. After a season and half of watching my beloved Villa become an amusement park for visiting clubs and a dentist’s chair for home fans, passion is sometimes hard to muster. I am just sick of being sick of it: The expensive pie, the plastic pint, the unseasonable foul weather, engineering works on the Cross-City line, the crumbling vestiges of a defence, the awful refs, the embarrassing cup exits- I could go on though I won’t. Today we head to the game in the all weather gear via bus. I tell the Mrs that if we don’t beat the Irons then we are are down. We are running out of games and running out of excuses. All the puff, all the sweat and all the promise has to now got to become something that can be nailed to a points tally. Game on, my friends. Game on.
A post-international league outing is always more of a chess match than other games. Players will have put in the miles on and off the pitch. Training will have been disjointed and the club’s routine will have been interrupted. Despite all of this, my main relief centres around our continuation with the 4-2-3-1 that has been pivotal in putting Lambert’s 5 man, defensive catastrophe to bed. Along with that Joe Bennett is benched in favour of Nathan Baker at left back. Westwood and Delph form a two man holding midfield, while the much improved (Vital man of the month) N’Zogbia once again plays in the hole behind the unplayable Christian Benteke. Weimann and Bowery will be to the left and right of the French Maestro to pick up the knock on and the second ball. I’m interested to see Bowery again. He hasn’t looked bad for a 500k buy from Chesterfield though he has no doubt only made the starting eleven after speedmeister Agbonlahor is ruled out with a virus New signings Sylla and Dawkins take the bench.
In takes two minutes for Villa to find an opening. Benteke’s daisy cutter catches Jaaskelainen unaware. He spoons his save leaving an open goal for the prowling Weimann. It’s a tap in though somehow, don’t know how and never will, despite being four yards out Weimann finds the wrong side of the post. Look out for this one on your next goal howler DVD or You Tube compilation of shooting boots gone wrong. This has to be perhaps one of the worst in Premier League history. A complete stinker. (Ronnie Rosenthal- please stand down.)
My main worry today is that of a fragile, creaky defence coming up against a Sam Allardyce team packed with gamesmanship and set piece muscle, though a dreadful first half passes with Villa mostly on top. Once again though there is no cutting edge. As a result, West Ham, who have a dreadful away record, are soaking up the pressure though they are failing to create any chances of their own. At the moment this has a dull 0-0 written all over it.
Nathan Baker is in the wars. Joey O’ Brien takes a few crunch challengers from the Worcester born defender, who finds himself on the over lap, high up the pitch. Bakesy goes up for a Villa corner and ends up with a split head for his trouble. He’s sent off for some treatment. The blood is cleaned off his face and he’s back on the pitch. Warrior. That’s what we need. After 24′ minutes O’Brien’s game is done. He is replaced after another banging tackle by the marauding figure of Demel, who seems to be his better in every department.
Nice to see the boys are up for some contact sport. I can only imagine what Lambert and Culverhouse have put them through these last weeks to get this level of physical and organisational improvement out of them. Bodymoor Heath must have been hell after the Bradford débâcle.
Central to our changing fortunes has been N’Zogbia who has put in some classy, attacking displays from attacking centre mid. This is the player we thought we were buying in 2011-12 when he arrived for £10 Million and he looks the difference today. He’s pulling the strings. (Steven Ireland take note.)
Bakesy is sent by referee Mark Clattenburg for some more treatment to his busted head before he takes the throw in. This is going down well with the Mrs. She is from Worcester and she loves her home town boy. The blonde fist is in the air and she’s giving West Ham her most present thoughts.
We go down at half time, cold and damp, though spirits are soon warmed by the trusty tea flask and a bite on a snack bar. Its then back to the seats with renewed optimism. We just have to beat these. For a start, how dare they play in Claret and Blue. The nerve of it.
West Ham come at us with pressure and drive in the second-half. I am out of my seat early on. “It’s 90 minutes not 45 minutes,” I scream. “Get the **** on with it.” Clark and Vlaar are instrumental in stopping clear, goal bond chances. I could cry. We are all expecting the inevitable capitulation and away goal though Villa are sucking it up. A flurry of Hammer corners are cleared to a round of applause from the Holte End. Amazingly, we are looking tidy and organised against the set piece today. Why we ever tried that ridiculous 5 man defence is beyond me.
Bent comes on for the disappointing Bowery. He doesn’t look bad for 500k. He shows some composure and power but he’s too deep lying and the touch is often wayward. Bent replaces him on 63′ minutes, in a double swap that sees Simon Dawkins replace Weimann. Bent’s first touch is to clear Andy Carroll’s effort off the line. Well done Benty. The £35 Million Liverpool loan joke could have had the Hammer’s in front there but for a better strike.
Villa mount another break. N’Zogbia cuts into the box from the right and shows some wicked feet to Noble who can’t help himself. He brings the Villa man down for a stonewall penalty in the 74′. The French wizard showed great acceleration, hip turn and foot speed there. Noble was left dazzled and blinded by it and was unable to adjust. Referee Clattenburg points to the spot. Benteke, who has displaced Bent as penalty king, rolls a teasing effort toward the bottom right hand corner of the net, sending Jaaskelainen the wrong way. Ecstasy erupts in the Lower Holte. I am hugging people I don’t know. 1-0 Villa.
West Ham come at us straight from the restart though Bradley ‘Goose’ Guzan (he always sticks his neck out) tidies up. Another Villa counter is launched, though a heavy touch from West Ham leaves us with a direct free kick twenty yards out. If there is a God???
Charles N’Zogbia shows us all that there is one. BOOOOOOM! That was boot, ball and net -all in that order. The Irons keeper throws himself to his left though that free kick is so beautifully sweet that it curls toward the top right as though it were born to be there. N’Zogbia runs to the corner flag, arms raised in a V salute. The Villa players encircle him, celebrating with the mighty Holte End. Long time coming, but welcome Charles, welcome. 2-0 Aston Villa. Pick that out of the net.
Villa Park is now in full voice. Just to hear her throat open again; her songs rise to the wet Birmingham Sky brings back a Brummy thunder thought lost. Yes, its only 2-0 (and Lord knows we can’t half capitulate), though we need to remember why we’re here and why this old Victorian club still matters so much. Holte Lower L8 are all singing ‘Shoes off, if you love Villa.’ An array of weather beaten footwear is held aloft. Best song of the day by far.
Aston Villa should have a third penalty. Another break sends Dawkins into the left hand side of the penalty after Villa rip through the Hammer`s midfield courtesy of a Benteke knock on. He is clearly tripped at the ankle though Clattenburg, who has been excellent throughout, waves away all appeals.
On the 84′ minute Lambert gives Sylla his home park début, replacing N’Zogbia who receives a standing ovation and a song in his name. Well deserved, son. Though it isn’t over. Ashley Westwood scores a stupid own goal out of nothing on the 87′ minute. Here we go again. This is where you need a cool head though after throwing away leads against West Brom, Man Utd and Everton, the doubt creeps in instantly.
West Ham do what any Sam Allardyce team does best. They start launching long throws and hoofed passes up top. Its not going to be pretty. We are all stood frozen in the rain, praying. I have crossed myself and said prayers numerous times already “Forget about that whole business in the Middle East, Lord and don’t worry about that whole magnetic field thing and the danger of a solar radiation bombardment. Just get the man in black to the blow the bloody whistle.”
I am can barely look though I needn’t worry. Goose Guzan is there to deny not just Carlton Nogoal but Kevin Nolan’s effort as well, parrying at the death with a fine fingertip save after West Ham do everything other than drive the ball into the net via Sherman tank.
Mark Clattenburg blows for full time. Villa Park erupts into cheers of relief and celebration. The team have won a game of football, at home and with a glorious free kick thrown in as well. Final score Villa 2-1West Ham
It was a horrendous trip back home. Traffic jams were everywhere and the weather got worse though we sat smiling like two gormless pratts, reliving the wonder of the final whistle and the goals that came before it. In a weekend which saw Reading, QPR Wigan and Newcastle all loose, and with Arsenal and Man City waiting in the wings, it was now or never. Chuffed we got the win and got out of the bottom three. I feel that the last two games represents the turning of a corner. We look like a Premier League team again. The belief has returned.
Man of The Match: Charles N'Zogbia
Room for Improvement: Jordan Bowery