We Got Knocked Down, But Can West Ham Get Up Again For Their Visit To Villa Park

Reality called at the weekend with an emphatic defeat to the league champions. The Hammers must now show their character in tonight’s tough Aston Villa test

Ultimately it was a bridge too far. It was meant to big our big moment. Talked up in the media, the final game of a perfect January, a place in the top four beckoning, and facing a jaded, injury ridden opponent struggling to find enough competent defenders. The higher the expectations built, the more disheartening the fall when it came.

It was no disgrace to be outplayed by what turned out to be a very good Liverpool performance, but it was disappointing that West Ham didn’t give a better account of themselves. Where the visitors passing was smart, crisp and incisive, the Hammers were unable to break the press, were funnelled into cul-de-sacs and invention was limited to hopeful first-time flicks.

Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek found themselves outnumbered in midfield and were unable to offer the usual solid foundation to build upon. Not the first time this has happened against an opponent playing 4-3-3, so perhaps a Plan-B is required for such occasions.

As the game progressed, it seemed a scoreless draw was the best we could hope for, but a moment of poor judgement by Aaron Cresswell allowed Salah the gilt edged opportunity needed to put an end to his scoring drought. The goal played out like watching an accident in slow motion. We all knew what Salah was hoping to do and yet he was allowed to execute it without challenge. After that, there was no way back.

In different circumstances, the last two Liverpool goals would have merited a polite round of applause, even from opposition fans. The breakaway goal was a thing of beauty and a more worthy goal of the season contender, in my opinion, than the usual 30-yard pile-driver.

What we need now from West Ham is to see a positive reaction. It is not uncommon, once the momentum of a good run is lost, that it has a debilitating effect on the player’s mentality. The last thing we want is to do a Southampton – and the next few games will be a true test of the player’s character. Bouncebackability as Iain Dowie once termed it.

No surprise that the transfer window came and went without putting a dent in the West Ham war chest. An already skeletal squad ending the day a net one down in its senior player complement (Haller and Snodgrass out; Lingard in). It turns out that the myriad worldwide striker links in the media and the teasing in-the-know insights from ExWHUtealady and others, were all just made-up in someone’s bedroom.

I do understand David Moyes pragmatic position on transfers. Better to spend what limited money might be available in the summer than on a Sullivan-special now. Sullivan loves to parade an exotic name in a misguided attempt to impress and appease the fans. Moyes has done a fantastic job with the resources he has to work with, but progression at the club is constrained by ongoing mismanagement in the boardroom – and the consequences of the big sums wasted by Pellegrini on players patently unsuited to the Premier League.

Perhaps the inactivity will provide an opportunity for selected academy players – Ben Johnson, Jamal Baptiste, Connor Coventry, Nathan Holland, Mipo Odubeko – to stake a claim during the remainder of the season. High time that the ‘Academy of Football’ delivered the goods.

Today’s opponents, Aston Villa, leave me heavily conflicted. They are having a fine season, have invested (mostly) wisely in the squad, play attractive and enterprising football and can boast arguably the most creative midfielder in the country. Yet all those positives are undone by their ever whinging manager, Dean “VAR ate my hamster” Smith, and the unashamed cheating antics of Jack Grealish. The outlandish dive by Grealish in this season’s reverse fixture, conning the referee into awarding a yellow a card to Pablo Fornals, simply has no defence. Any self-respecting sport that was interested in cleaning up its act would find a way to take retrospective action over such incidents.

Tonight, is going to be a tough game. I don’t see many changes to the West Ham line-up except a first glimpse of Jesse Lingard in a West Ham shirt, probably from the bench.  Goals will again prove a problem for the Hammers and any thoughts that Villa are vulnerable at the back are dispelled by their having the second lowest goals against in the league right now. We will do well to come away with a point and I am liking the look of 1-1 draw. COYI!

The Hammers visit Villa Park hoping to start another winning run

Our run of consecutive winning games (which had reached six in number) had to come to an end at some stage, and I guess it was inevitable that the Premier League champions, who had found some form when visiting our North London neighbours just a few days ago, would be the team to end the sequence. We went into the game full of confidence, but right from the outset appeared to me to show the Merseysiders too much respect. We didn’t play as well as we might, and our lone striker (Antonio), despite having an excellent season so far, seemed a bit below par for the second game running. Perhaps he needs a rest, although the lack of alternatives to fit into the lone striker role is a definite worry for the remainder of the campaign.

Liverpool’s first goal came as a result of allowing Salah to come inside and curl a shot into goal with his left foot. He should have been forced to go on the outside; a defensive error. The second goal resulted from an excellent counter attack from our corner as we chased the game from a losing position, but despite the brilliant execution of the goal I was disappointed that we let it happen. It reminded me of other counter attacks where we have conceded in recent seasons (goals from Arsenal and Manchester City come to mind).

The game and the result provided a reality check to those fans talking us up into a potential top four finish and showed the gulf between the very best (Liverpool and Manchester City in my opinion) and those chasing them. Liverpool showed that not only their best eleven are a very good side, but that they have strength in depth that we do not possess.

Nevertheless we need to put the game behind us, learn from our mistakes, and move on to the Villa match, and try to recapture the form that has enabled us to climb the table. The Midland claret and blues, like ourselves, have performed beyond expectations in the season to date. But when you look at the form table for the last five games, they have lost three of them, whereas we have twelve points, second only to Manchester City in the Premier League.

It will be interesting to see if the manager makes any changes for this game to try to freshen up the team, although I’ll be surprised if he does. He tends to stick with largely the same players who have taken us to fifth place, and it is hard to argue against the success of the season to date. I’m always surprised by the substitutions he makes (or doesn’t make), but he stands or falls by those decisions.

As far as the bookmakers are concerned Aston Villa are favourites at 6/5 to take the spoils, with both a West Ham win and the draw available at around 23/10. The favourite “correct score” is a 1-1 draw, and this is a likely outcome, although wearing my optimistic hat, I’ll take us to sneak a 2-1 win. I just hope that the referee is not fooled by diving antics which were a feature of the game when the sides met at the London Stadium, with one player in particular (and we all know who he is) guilty of falling to the ground very easily.

So 2-1 is my prediction plus we are overdue being awarded a penalty kick. What are the chances?