What a strange emotion it was walking away from the ground. Victory at Villa park has been so infrequent of late that the defeat of West Ham almost felt like a surprise.
All in all this was a better performance as well. The frailties remain, but at the final whistle all that matters was that 3 very valuable points were secured.
The first half was an interesting affair. West Ham, with Carroll as the lone striker, ventured rarely and offered little going forward. Considering that the Villa team looked nervous and being so woeful at the back of late, it was welcome relief that an opposition side looked set up for the draw.
This allowed Villa to probe and retain the ball, Benteke marauded, N’Zogbia weaved and Wiemann missed an open goal. So bad a miss it was that it appeared to knock the young Austrian’s confidence, resulting in his being subbed in the second half. It was a shocker fit to grace any blooper reel.
Going in at half time Villa probably wished they had done more given The Hammers lack of desire on a miserable Sunday afternoon. The prospect of a scrappy second half in the icy rain did little to inspire confidence.
As the second half played out West Ham inevitably came into the game.
Using Carroll as the target man, the long ball mortar rounds were fired into the box time and again. West Ham are a big team, the shape and build synonymous with the much maligned Allardyce style of play. Pretty it certainly isn’t on the eye.
Villa survived corners, a goalmouth clearance by Bent (worth a goal in itself) and held firm. It could have gone either way for a period.
N’Zogbia has until this season been a huge failure at Villa. Indeed, owing to injury and arguably attitude he looked a shadow of the £10 million parted with to Wigan for his services.
However, after glimpses in recent weeks he’s starting to appear as important to our survival as the continued fine form of Benteke.
N’Zogbia had been tricky all afternoon and soon drove on goal from the right before lashing a strike just beyond the far post. The Holte End sensed the deadlock could be broken.
Minutes later Charles was brought down in the area by clumsy defending. It wasn’t malicious or blatant, just an ill advised leg out to fall over. Benteke despatched the spot kick with ease. Rapture!
Villa continued to press and were rewarded with a second to seal the win. More clumsy defending from West Ham resulted in a tempting free kick on the edge of the box after Bent was bundled over. N’Zogbia stepped up and buried the ball.
And all was well in the world again. The planets aligned, hell froze over and peace broke out in the Middle East. Villa, were winning.
And then the frailties and inexperience reared its head again.
West Ham really stepped up a gear in the closing stages, having been ponderous rather than threatening throughout most of the second half. Villa, eager to take the points, tried to shut up shop, inviting pressure. We were so deep the north stand car park was virtually our goal line.
The last ten minutes were long, terrifying minutes. Awful.
They became even longer when Ashley Westwood, an often overlooked up and comer pinched from Crewe in pre-season, was unlucky to beat Guzan. His flicked header from a speculative Cole cross was enough to set the hearts racing. Villa sure enough went to pieces with utter fear that a repeat of Everton and Albion was on the cards.
It was as though time stood still. Men read newspapers cover to cover, scientists calculated Pi. Still the whistle didn’t blow.
Corners flew in. Shots ricocheted around the box. Guzan pulled off two saves at the death that reminded everyone why he’s ahead of Given. Concentration, desire and a winners attitude. It was only at full time you could see what it meant to him.
Indeed, the relief on the faces of all Villa’s youngsters and Lambert was there to see. It was a battling and hard earned victory. This type of performance will hold us in good stead and the mental boost it will bring alone is priceless.
West Ham were a difficult, physical team. However their game plan was hard to decipher other than hoofing the ball or counting on overpowering Villa. I can see why they might struggle or be vulnerable, the back line looked decidedly dodgy and going forward they were somewhat limp.
I would be very disappointed had I made the journey given that showing.
The 3 points do as much for our league position as it does morale. Being out if the bottom 3 puts the pressure on other teams to act. It’s always better to be a position where you’re not the side doing the chasing.
After taking 4 points from the last two games Villa are now faced with challenges against Arsenal and Man City. The Gunners are a mixed bag but are organised and dangerous. City are unpredictable yet have a wealth of talent to call upon to unpick us. However, as Southampton showed they are not infallible.
We shall see after a timely two week break. It’s good to win, life is good for a change.