Saturday, December 20, 2008

EPL Liveblog, Pt. 2: West Ham v. Aston Villa

Well, I'm up for it this afternoon. Feeling ill in bed, I need a sense of purpose. Thus, a second liveblog of the day.

West Ham. Aston Villa. Will O'Neill get a firmer grip on 4th place, or will Zola's London renaissance continue?

Come Claret with me after the jump and make me feel loved.

LINEUPS
West Ham: Green, Neill, Davenport, Upson, Ilunga, Collison, Noble, Parker, Behrami, Bellamy, Cole.
Subs: Lastuvka, Boa Morte, Mullins, Faubert, Tristan, Bowyer, Di Michele.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Cuellar, Davies, Laursen, Luke Young, Petrov, Milner, Sidwell, Barry, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Knight, Reo-Coker, Shorey, Gardner.

They're in the tunnel getting ready to appear. I am hoping and praying that there will be goals in this one. Shit, if Sunderland can give us 4 goals by themselves, hopefully Agbo and Ashley can do the same for us here.

And we're off!

3 mins: Early corner for Villa, but Green (aka England's future #1, surely) comes out confidently to collect. This sentiment is amplified when I see how nervous David James looks when faced with any ball crossed into the 6-yard box.

5 mins: Villa are harassing the Hammers, making every simple pass across the backline seem like a chore. Ashley Young's already found some room down the left wing. Expect more of that as time goes on.

8 mins: Cagey start thus far. Both sides scrapping in midfield and trying to dictate the pace. Behrami gets hauled to ground by Barry as they battle for a 50/50 ball, giving the Hammers a free-kick 30 yards out on the right. Surely Bellamy's not looking to shoot from there, is he?

It's crossed in and headed back across goal by Davenport. Lucas Neill has enough room to shoot, but his weak half-volley lands right in Friedel's hands. Simple save. Counts as a half-chance.

10 mins: OUCH. Ilunga and Cuellar go full tilt for a loose ball and clash hard, with Ilunga's knee ending up buried in the Villa player's thigh. Cuellar is slow to get up and looks in some pain. It's a miracle he still has a right leg. O'Neill has a quick word and warms up a sub or two just in case. Not a bad idea as Cuellar hasn't managed anything above a limp since rejoining the action.

13 mins: Sh*t... the speedy malcontent Bellamy gets in behind the defense and clean through on goal, his low shot forces a fine leg save from Friedel. Should have buried that. Zola squirms in his seat, knowing that should have been 1-0. Troubling times for the visitors. Villa pour forward and win a corner off Lucas Neill. Ashley Young to swing it in...

... and while it bounces around in the area, eventually West Ham clear. Plenty of space to be had in midfield if either side is feeling brave.

3 decent efforts on goal for the Hammers thus far, nothing of note for Villa. Ashley gets around Behrami down the left and gets dragged to the floor. Young takes the free kick himself, short to Steve Sidwell, and he has a shot from the edge of the box. Tons of power, no direction whatsoever. Well off-target, 10 yards wide to the right.

25 mins: Sorry, stepped away for a few minutes to hack up a lung. Being ill over the holidays are never fun.

27 mins: As soon as I come back, Villa get a gift as Parker plays a terrible backpass that gives Ashley Young a chance one-on-one with Green. He beats Green for pace but pulls the ball too wide, and his shot at the empty net ends up hitting the post and pinging out.

28 mins: Yes, Precious Roy, they are definitely outplaying Villa. Then again, that's what it so bewitching about Villa: all they need is a half-chance to break an opponent's will, regardless of having far less possession and shots on goal. The pattern might well continue if Scott Parker plays such ridiculous backpasses without looking.

30 mins: Was that a penalty a minute ago? Lucas Neill smothers Gareth Barry in the box like a warm blanket, and no whistle.

31 mins: Gabby Agbo flops under pressure from Calum Davenport after a trademark run-right-into-traffic, and Ashley Young puts the free kick just wide of the post. Green had no chance of stopping it if it were an inch to the right. Another good chance for Villa, yet the game remains goalless.

Here's a thought: if Villa win today, they'll be 4 points out of 1st place. Should we include them in the EPL title chase? It seems foolish not to, especially with their pace up-front.

Never thought I'd ever think that, by the way.

35 mins: Well, Bellamy goes close again. He gets free down the right and forces a corner as Curtis Davies heads behind. Good pressure from the Hammers. As much as I hate him, Bellamy is finding some rare form of late.

38 mins: Nothing substantial happening at the moment. There is tension in the game as Capello watches from the stands, but you get the feeling that it'll amount to a 0-0.

Bellamy gets another good cross in from the right but no-one can get on the end. Curtis Davies looks like a titan at the back.

40 mins: Frustration for Villa as yet another crossfield pass ends up floating out for a throw-in. They look far from their usual selves, playing more errant passes than Jermaine Pennant on a good day.

43 mins: Behrami unleashes a wicked swerving volley down Friedel's throat, knocking the Yank GK off his feet in making the save.

45 mins: Robert Green is forced to show his class once again, as Villa split the defense twice. Gabby can't control initially to shoot, but Milner and Barry force two good saves within 10 seconds. Please, fire David James already, Mr. Capello.

HALF TIME: West Ham 0, Aston Villa 0
Fair result thus far. The Hammers are dictating possession and looking more inventive in midfield, but Villa's squandered three glorious chances to put the game away. Please, give this ailing liveblogger some goals.

Quick moment for some wonderful Beckham PR work as he's officially unveiled at AC Milan today:

"Meanwhile, David Beckham is officially unveiled at AC Milan. I've already fallen in love. I love the history behind great teams. It's going to be hard to leave but we all know that I play in America for the Galaxy. But I'm going to have a great time here I hope."
I love the nonchalance of his LA Galaxy reference, and the loaded language. You just know he's never coming back, right?

Subs for West Ham to start the second half: Hayden Mullins on, Scott Parker off. A substitution they've used a few times lately as Parker struggles to find full match fitness. Mullins did play a blinder against Spartak the other week.

46 mins: West Ham begin the half like they ended the first: with good possession and movement up the pitch. Ilunga gives Bellamy a glimpse of goal but he's well marked and gives Friedel a simple save.

Ashley Young barges into Behrami under a high ball, giving the Hammers a free kick in a tasty position 25-ish yards out. Noble swings it in and Upson gets a free header on it, but there's no-one on the near post to re-direct it and it goes wide. Opportunity missed.

49 mins: More Hammers pressure as Carlton Cole earns yet another corner for the home side. Lucas Neill gets a clean header from Noble's delivery but puts it yards over the bar. There's a goal coming soon, I can sense it despite my weakness...

52 mins: I don't think Villa have taken the pitch yet to start the second half. More half-hearted defending gives West Ham another corner, only for Sidwell to shank it clear. All the action is around Friedel's goal at the minute. No cohesion or comfort on the ball for O'Neill's side in this second half yet.

54 mins: A Luke Young sighting! He gets a second to cross from the wing but puts it out of play. Agbo and Ashley have been non-existent thus far, thanks to the hustle of the Hammers midfield to cut out distribution. They're definitely the EPL's form team at the moment. Parker, Noble, Mullins are a nightmare to face in front of Upson, Davenport and Neill. Nigh-on impossible to break them down.

56 mins: Time for another tactical Zola sub (Parker wasn't injured; purely tactics)... looks like Behrami will be exiting.

Here it is: Valon Behrami off, Lee Bowyer on.

Villa will take the stoppage to make a change as well: Carlos Cuellar off, Nigel Reo-Coker on. He's booed immediately with every touch he gets on the ball. Breaking the Hammers' hearts by causing a fuss and demanding a transfer away from Upton Park will do that, I guess.

60 mins: Carlton Cole, HUUUUUHH, What are you good for, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, say it again! He wastes a glorious chance to give West Ham the lead, managing to head Lucas Neill's gorgeous cross over the bar from 4 yards out.

Villa come down and cause a scare, as Luke Young's long cross to the back post misses everyone but James Milner, but he can't get on the end of it.

64 mins: The Hammers fans are rejuvenated by the appearance of Reo-Coker. Every touch is greeted with a chorus of boos and insults. I love this game. Fans never forget this stuff.

Villa waste a corner and Bellamy gets space and time on the ball in the box. His cross sits up perfectly for Carlton Cole, except Laursen nips in at the last second to divert the ball off his feet. Cole still manages a shot on the rebound, and Friedel saves with his feet. So wasteful, Mr. Cole.

Trying times for Villa. Another West Ham corner out on the right, Noble to take...

... and Davenport gets a free header, putting it just over the bar. I don't remember the last time Villa were this outmatched in the air, and this outplayed on the floor as well.

66 mins: Cole goes close again, shoving past two defenders and forcing a near-post save and clearance from Friedel. Villa counter-attack with Ashley Young, but Neill knocks him over to slow the pace and picks up a yellow card.

A West Ham goal is imminent. Surely. Remove Carlton Cole and replace with any semi-competent striker, and this game is over.

69 mins: Ashley Young finally gets a bit of space to show his class. One-on-one with Neill, he cuts inside and blasts a swerving shot just wide of the far post. He had time to blast it, but went for placement instead. The Hammers exhale. 20 minutes left.

71 mins: Oh, Ashley. Barry robs Noble in midfield and gives it to Young, who cuts inside again but plays a curving cross to no-one and gives Green a goal kick. Wasteful.

72 mins: James Milner picks up a yellow for bodychecking Ilunga at full speed. Noble to take it, wide on the left...

... cleared easily.

74 mins: Great reflexes by Davenport to take the ball of Gabby's feet as he sets up to shoot from 10 yards out. The Hammers deserve at least a point, if not all 3. Can they break through in the final 15 minutes? I'll say no, if Cole stays on the pitch.

76 mins: More pressure at Friedel's end as the Hammers keep pushing.

78 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and what a steaming pile of bullshit it is. Villa break quickly with Young up the middle, and finds Milner out on the left. Lucas Neill closes him down easily enough, and Milner elects to cross/shoot to the far post. It loops off Neill's leg/arse area and dips under the bar at the last second, leaving Green helpless. Milner and Barry barely celebrate. Utter rubbish. The most undeserved lead for any team this season. West Ham 0, Aston Villa 1

80 mins: A heartbreaker for Zola. How will they respond? The life has just been sucked out of the home side as Villa finally assert themselves a bit in the midfield. Dare I say it, but O'Neill might well park the bus for the final 10 minutes. Zola's finally getting some strikers warmed up for his final substitution. Carlton Cole can expect an early shower.

83 mins: Ashley Young ends up on the right wing, winning a corner. It's half-cleared, and Petrov blasts the loose ball high and wide.

Substitution for West Ham, and it's not Carlton Cole! Jack Collison off, Diego Tristan on.

86 mins: Hang about, Ashley Young is dead. Davenport gets his leg up to clear a difficult cross, and his boot meets Young's face as he tries to race on the end of it. As one would expect, little to no sympathy from the home fans.

87 mins: Davenport, how did you miss that? A series of half-chances for West Ham around the box, and it breaks for Calum free on the right. He shoots for top corner and Friedel paws it around the post for a corner.

Another throw for West Ham deep in Villa territory. Neill loops it in and causes havoc in the box, but Villa clear once again.

West Ham have 8 up-front at the moment, the crowd urging them to find an equalizer. Another cross whipped in from the left, but Davies gets to it first and directs it back to Big Bald Brad. Crisis averted.

4 added minutes at Upton Park.

90 mins + 1: West Ham push again, but Bowyer mauls Ashley Young and concedes a free-kick, giving Friedel plenty of time to waste in punting it forward. I think we're just about done here.

90 mins + 2: Cole gets a chance to shoot, but it's deflected wide. He's a bit rubbish. This game could have been over by the hour mark if he'd been more gifted in the finishing department.

Still, they drag forward again. Cole botches another header.

FULL TIME: West Ham 0, Aston Villa 1
Desperately unlucky for Zola. The home side did everything right except for putting it in the net, and Milner's freakish deflected goal ends up being good enough to put Aston Villa in 3rd place for Christmas.

As Precious Roy notes in the comments, this is very much the hallmark of Top 4 clubs: win those games you're not supposed to win. Villa have played about 6 minutes of decent football today, and yet they have three points to show for it. Let's see how Liverpool and Arsenal do tomorrow, although the early game (Newcastle v. Spurs) should be entertaining as well.

Now my online feed is showing Real Madrid v. Valencia. It's 1-0 Real, 27 mins gone! (not liveblogging that one though)

24 comments:

The NY Kid said...

I heard that you were feeling ill
Headache, fever and a chill
I came here to restore your pluck
'Cause I'm the nurse who likes to...

Precious Roy said...

The FA should have made both of them wear claret and blue.

Adam said...

It took me a good solid 2 minutes to realize that Aston Villa was infact not the team wearing claret and blue. God I love hangovers

Precious Roy said...

Is it just me or are West Ham outplaying them half an hour in? Well, save for that giveaway to Young they are.

jjf3 said...

I didn't get the memo that there was a new post for the 2nd blog. Agree with you, PR, though I think Villa's had the 3 best chances to actually score. Well, now make that 2 of the best 3 after that Behrami shot.

jjf3 said...

bad first touch by Gabby

The NY Kid said...

some great goalkeeping in this match so far

Lingering Bursitis said...

jjf3: Nice win this morning. Blackburn helped my bank balance immensely.

Adam said...

jjf3, how'd your picks do so far? I'm 2-2 picking winners, and the closest I was to predicting a score was 3-1 SFB

jjf3 said...

LB: Thanks! I didn't watch it, but it sounds like it was more due to Stoke than anything BFS or Rovers actualy did. Still, its 3 points that we desperately needed.

Adam: Haven't checked yet, but I think I'm 3-1 (no clue on the Hull-Cats game). Pretty sure I had Fulham, Bolton and Blackburn winning.

Lingering Bursitis said...

Blackburn's issue right now is confidence. Even with a 3-goal lead, they played with no guts at all. The second half was dictated by Stoke, who were given all the time in the world to push forward in search for goals.

Still, an impressive win.

jjf3 said...

Yeah, considering its basically the same team as last year, they've looked surprisingly bad all season. If BFS does nothing else then get their defensive cohesion back, we'll probably ultimately survive. Though with Robbo in goal, cohesion might be too much to ask...

Apropos of nothing, I like Villa's away kit this year.

jjf3 said...

What exactly does Carlton Cole bring to a team? (Besides missed chances)?

jjf3 said...

LB: I have to agree - can't remember the last time I saw Villa outplayed like this, pretty much in every phase of the game. Wouldn't surprise me if their pace on the wings gets them a winner anyways...

Lingering Bursitis said...

My fingers are crossed for a home win at this point. Villa have done nothing to deserve even a draw.

jjf3 said...

OMFG!

Precious Roy said...

Fuck.

The NY Kid said...

stupid Hammers - how are Arsenal supposed to move back into 4th?

Precious Roy said...

Really, when Everton give up late winners after drawing with seconds on the clock, then freak crosses-turned goals, Villa are screwing the Gunners with kismet. And when you get fucked by kismet it leaves a rash.

The NY Kid said...

stupid sexy Brad Friedel

Precious Roy said...

Winning matches they shouldn't. Hallmark of a team destined for the Top 4.

Your move, Wenger.

jjf3 said...

Thouroughly undeserved win, but the 3 points still count...

thanks for the hard work today LB, hope you start feeling better.

Lingering Bursitis said...

Cheers jjf3, and cheers to everyone who survived today's fixtures list. 9/12ths of UF is just killing time for tomorrow's game at this point. It can't come fast enough.

jjf3 said...

I'll be heading to the bar early tomorrow, myself. That's a match I don't want to miss, even with no real rooting interest.