Cleverley & Grealish shine against West Ham as Villa take huge leap to safety. #avfc #whu

We can breathe again for another week.  Another win.  Another three points.  Just maybe, Sherwood can pull this off?  What a change in fortunes, which few predicted or could see as being feasible or indeed possible.

If Villa had failed to win last weekend against Everton, we would have slipped to third bottom.  Defeat to West Ham, with the benefit of hindsight, would have left matters very precarious indeed.

However, things are different now.  Our team is unrecognisable.  Sherwood described the players as playing with ‘freedom and flair’, certainly this is visible.  I’d go a little further in saying that we have adopted a smart passing game and have improved our organisation beyond recognition.

Central to this is a refreshed spine within the side.  Game by game it looks more assured.  Given, Okore, Cleverley & Benteke gives us real strength and threat.

This is complimented by trickery and invention from Grealish and N’Zogbia so bereft in the Lambert era.  It is increasingly pondered amongst Villa fans; how did Lambert get it so wrong with this group of players?  It’s not worth reflecting on for too long, but it is baffling when you look at the same names on the teamsheet.

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Villa started the game purposefully, another trait we suddenly possess.  The midfield entered into a greater physical battle than experienced against Everton.  West Ham are massive, physical but a better footballing team than they are given credit for.  Whilst their creative players were kept quiet, the hustle and bustle provided by uncompromising figures like Kevin Nolan were there for all to see.

Former West Brom mercenary Amalfitano provided the first talking point.  Duelling with Cleverley repeatedly in the first half, the Frenchman childishly kicked out,an act missed by all of the officials.  A sign of his struggles in the game and why he was hauled off at half time by Big Sam.  Amalfitano will likely expect retrospective action for his stupidity.

Grealish caught the eye once more, ghosting between the centre midfield and strikers, unlocking the West Ham backline at will.  Delph released Grealish into space down the left, where the youngster delayed his low cross to the point of no return.  Cleverley accepted the offer to knock in his third goal in as many games.

Whilst Grealish is the rising star, Cleverley is playing the role of the ‘resurrected’.

Tom is now a driving force behind our resurgence, with great one touch interplay and runs which terrorise the space between fullback and centre half.  He has now begun adding goals, essential goals to our survival.

Cleverley also appears to care.  So long the scapegoat, so often the bemoaned isolated figure for club and country, it’s a remarkable return to form.  It’s also staggering to think that a mere matter of months ago, many Villa fans would have driven him back to Manchester personally.  Now, we urgently need to pin him down.  £8 million, the reported fee, suddenly seems a bargain.

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Villa were reasonably assured all afternoon, restricting West Ham to long shots or forcing errors.  The only scare came when Valencia headed in; ruled correctly offside.  It was tight, but nonetheless, offside.

West Ham brought on Song, who for all of his ability, is a ‘disrupter’.  I lost count of the fouls he committed on Grealish; clearly team orders.  This eventually resulted in a yellow card, but not after multiple instances of trips, pushes and kicks.  This cumulative fouling going unpunished combined along with the missed kick from Amalfitano on Cleverley summed up the refereeing performance; patchy.

It would be unfair not to mention the West Ham penalty shout in the first half.  The Hammers were the master of their own downfall on this one.  If Nolan doesn’t blatantly foul Given, then Bacuna’s pullback is the only issue unfolding in front of the referee.  This decision, given the two issues, will only go in the goalkeepers favour, and rightly so.  A needless foul from Nolan, costing them dear.

Villa prodded and probed and should have really put the game to bed.  However, this is Aston Villa.  It wouldn’t be Saturday afternoon without an angst ridden final few minutes playing out.

Westwood drove the ball inches wide, Cleverley cannoned an effort off the goalkeeper and Agbonlahor missed a glorious opportunity when released by a sublime Grealish pass at the death.  It’s nice, indeed novel, to be in these winning positions of late, but we must improve at putting games to bed when the chances present.

All in all, a great performance, but an essential three points that cannot be understated.  With Burnley now relegated, the final game will hopefully demote the fixture from possible upset to a mere battle of pride.  Newcastle continue to teeter on the brink, whilst Hull, having lost and with two horrible fixtures remaining could well have signed their own death note.

If we keep our heads away at Southampton, press like we have been and play like we have in recent weeks, it could well cap a turnaround thought impossible just a matter of weeks ago.  One more big push – and hopefully – maybe – we can breathe a sigh of relief.

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