Lack of thrust and creativity a major issue for West Ham
Hammers failt o impress against Aston Villa
West Ham 1
Aston Villa 2
A Gabriel Agbonlahor header a minute into injury time gave Aston Villa a deserved victory over West Ham at Upton Park and left the Hammers deep in trouble.
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The defeat mean the Hammers slipped to 19th in the table, with only one goal separating themselves and the bottom side Wolves.
Villa dominated most of possession and were far more threatening throughout the 90 minutes, picking up a deserved win.
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West Ham defended poorly, lacked creativity and a desire to get bodies into the box in what was a remarkably flat showing in such a vital game.
The Hammers have often switched between abject and acceptable this season and today veered toward the former.
After watching such a poor performance it’s amazing to think the Hammers made such a bright start to the game.
There were just two minutes on the clock when West Ham opened the scoring.
Ashley Young failed to move out quick enough following corner and when Thomas Hitzlsperger’s header played in Keane and with Young failing to step out the Irish striker swivelled and shot past Brad Friedel.
Keane’s strike was a rare successful foray forward for the Hammers who failed to push men into the opposition box in the entire game.
Thomas Hitzlsperger and Mark Noble, who perhaps wary of the absence of Scott Parker through an Achilles injury, sat deep in central midfield and with both keen to play diagonals and balls through from deep, it was a combination which lacked variety and thrust.
Parker’s surging runs were missed and you could make a decent case for Jonathan Spector starting ahead of Noble as part of a central two.
There was precious little creativity out wide with Victor Obinna on the left easily dealt with by Kyle Walker and hard-working Gary O’Neil offering little going forward.
Carlton Cole was troublesome for Villa, but with Keane playing just behind the target man and the visitors defending deep, the former Chelsea man’s flick-ons regularly ended up in the arms of Friedel.
Cole was tracked by Richard Dunne in the first 45 minutes and the Irishman was more than a touch lucky to remain on the field after a coming together between the two after 16 minutes.
A ball over the top by Keane was seized upon by Cole who beat Dunne to the ball and would have been through on goal were he not pushed in the back by his marker.
Referee Mark Halsely was around 20 yards from the incident and looked over to his assistant, but with the official unmoved waved play on.
Walley Downes, the defensive coach and the majority of Upton Park erupted in frustration and bewilderment.
Villa dominated the remainder of the half with Stylian Petrov the source of most of the visitors’ attack, spraying passed to Stuart Downing and Ashley Young on either flank.
The Villa fans excitement would grow every time either touched the ball, but sadly for the visitors Emile Heskey would often be their target and with the former England striker having a poor day, their good work would often lead to little.
Strike partner Bent however always looked dangerous and after he had a goal wrongfully ruled out for a foul on Lars Jacobsen he levelled the scored after 37 minutes.
Noble lost possession on the edge of the area and Bent lost marker Wayne Bridge to head home from Luke Young’s cross.
Villa started strongly in the second half and almost took the lead three minutes in. Noble, whose stupid tackle gave away the free kick which led to Manchester United’s opener two weeks ago, needlessly fouled Hesky and from 25 yards Robert Green was forced into an excellent save to deny Young.
West Ham continued to offer little going forward, which made the decision to swap Obinna for Zavon Hines quite bizarre, with boss Avram Grant electing to maintain the ineffectual 4-4-2 formation.
O’Neil suffered a foot injury and had to be replaced by Demba Ba after 62 minutes, with Grant forced to play Keane behind Cole and Ba.
Villa however continued to dominant and the rampaging Walker, who was impressive at both ends of the pitch found Bent unmarked in the area, but luckily for the Hammers, his touch deserted him.
However, a minute into injury time their fortune ran out as a Young cross was headed home by Agonlahor, unmarked and yards from goal, it was a fitting way to end what was another shocking day for West Ham.
West Ham: Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Da Costa (Gabbidon 14), Upson, Obinna (Hines 58), Noble, Hitzlsperger, O’Neil (Ba 62), Keane, Cole.