By Chad Wrenn
Jordan Ayew saved a point away at Newcastle in the previous fixture and in order to pull off mission impossible, the game against West Ham at home fell into Remi Garde’s must win category. Since Dimitri Payet got injured a few weeks ago West Ham have been struggling and they saw this game as the perfect opportunity to steady the ship and show how the French playmaker isn’t the only game changer in their side.
Prematch Fan Thoughts
There was an undertone of importance in the air before this game, the fans knew that if we lost, our days would be numbered in the Premier League. However, that factor wasn’t really highlighted around the Villa Park and as a result there was no nervousness that could have been passed on to the players, which was a positive sign.
The line-up was mostly unchanged and again offered a solid base in midfield with Ashley Westwood, Carlos Sanchez, Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Veretout at the point of the diamond the previous three made up. Rudy Gestede came into the side after his substitution against Newcastle ultimately changed the game. The back four was completely unchanged as this game proved to be too early for Micah Richards to be reintroduced. Furthermore, Remi Garde decided against starting either Carles Gil or Adama Traore as this game needed a more defensively motivated team due to West Ham’s away heroics against sides such as Arsenal and Liverpool.
There was a bit more of a buzz around Villa Park, the fans were in better spirits after the Christmas period and the fact that it was Boxing Day meant that there were more fans in attendance than usual and this helped create a better feeling overall.
I’m unsure why the approach to this game felt different, perhaps it was the fight shown against Newcastle, or the transfer links to players of a higher calibre, whatever it was there was an increase in positivity and hope from supporters, without any major weight of expectation.
Villa came out of the game a point better but probably should have gained all three as players like Jordan Ayew and Jordan Veretout helped us dominate the shots with 15 overall and eight of those being on target, as well as having the majority of possession with 59%.
We dominated the first half with Rudy Gestede failing to take any of the chances we created and towards the end of the first half we paid the price for not taking those chances and Aaron Creswell, a player who we were linked with when he played for Ipswich rifled in a shot from just outside the box.
Alan Hutton was probably at fault for the goal, as his positioning allowed Creswell to find a gap and inevitably find the bottom right hand corner as a consequence. However, the forced substitution of Carlos Sanchez for Carles Gil may have played a part as Gil also failed to track back efficiently enough and couldn’t follow the West Ham left back’s run.
The Second half came and again Villa stepped up their game as Gestede and Veretout had more chances to equalise but Adrian pulled off some valuable saves to keep Villa out. We kept knocking on the door and just as many fans were starting to look to the bench for inspiration, Gestede got in behind Angelo Ogbonna and was bundled to the floor which referee Mike Dean deemed as a blatant penalty. Jordan Ayew fired it in the roof of the net with the coolest approach ever and it was game on.
Chances came Villa’s way as we were in the ascendency as the crowd called for Adama Traore, although Remi Garde accepted those calls and Veretout was replaced by the ex-Barcelona B winger, he failed to inspire us to the three points as West Ham held out for a draw.
The atmosphere was much better and as I said in the previous article, the players on the pitch are the ones who needed to inspire the fans to make some noise and they did.
The first song was well underway as the kick off was taken, a loud and proud rendition of ‘Holte Enders in the Sky’ bellowed out of all ends of the ground. Villa’s first half domination helped the atmosphere and it got even better in the second half. The atmosphere was electric as we kept pushing for an equaliser and the penalty decision was met by a mighty roar.
Jordan Ayew’s name was sung loud and proud as the Ghanaian’s leadership qualities mixed in with his technical ability are starting to help the rest of the team perform a lot better. However, Adama Traore stole the show on that front as the fans screamed for the young and enigmatic winger to be thrown into the action as supporters almost hassled and harried Garde to give him a chance.
Post-Match Fan Thoughts
A point didn’t seem good enough as we played more than well enough to take all three and the supporters appreciated the effort of the players at the final whistle.
Garde said himself in his post-match interview that the way we played in that game should have seen us rewarded with three points rather than just one. However, due to Everton’s 93rd minute winner against Newcastle, which was provided by Tom Cleverley of all people, Villa made some ground back and are now nine points from safety rather than ten (which means three results away instead of four).
The next two games again prove to be crucial and we must win both if the squad are to meet Garde’s target of eight points from the four games he deemed as ‘winnable’. We should walk away from Carrow Road with three points if we play like we did against West Ham and hopefully we’ll get a bit more luck than we did in this game. If we do get a win then we can look at the Sunderland match with a lot more confidence and all of a sudden we could be straight back into the mix with the other relegation candidates.
Away Fans Score – 6/10
The West Ham fans were loud at the start of the game, but our good play and chance creation made them quiet down very quickly, until Aaron Creswell scored and like most teams they boasted their 1-0 lead.
Overall, the Villa fans dominated with noise for the majority of the game and as an away following I expected a lot better from West Ham considering their impressive wins away this season.
A notably funny moment was when the Villa supporters in the North Stand began to sing “One song! You’ve only got one song….” Which the Hammers fans sarcastically responded with “We’ve only got one song…” and then was finally concluded when met with wit by the Villa faithful with “Two Songs! You’ve only got two songs…”.
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