With a nervous 1-0 win over West Ham United, Aston Villa have pushed themselves to within one win or one Hull loss of Premier League safety. The home team used a strong first half to snatch the lead and then hung on despite a second half that was one of the worst they've played in a while.
Aston Villa came out in the first half much as they did against Everton: dominating. And at no point in the first forty-five minutes did West Ham look like they had a chance. The same lineup that we saw against the Toffees last weekend did exactly what we've come to expect: control midfield play and crete plenty of chances. The one main difference was that, at least for the first half hour, Villa weren't getting the final touch. Tom Cleverley had a great chance early on when he was able to volley a Fabian Delph cross powerfully at the goal, but Adrian managed to just get in front of it and parry it away.
In the 31st, though, Cleverley would not be denied. Jack Grealish made a run up to the goal line, and at the last second threaded the ball in between two West Ham defenders. Cleverley had only to stick his foot out and deflect the ball into the goal.
The second half saw Sam Allardyce's side make a few changes that led to them dominating play. The addition of Alex Song completely changed the complexion of the match and was enough to make you wonder why he didn't start. In addition to harrying Jack Grealish, Song provided the Hammers with control of the midfield as Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley largely disappeared for a bit.
Of course the big worry was that Villa would give up a stupid goal as they've done frequently lately. At one point Enner Valencia looked to have scored the equalizer, but the linesman's flag was up for offside and the goal didn't count. Late in the match, when Villa were simply looking to hold on, they had golden chances from Gabby Agbonlahor (who had come on in place of Charles N'Zogbia) and Tom Cleverley, but neither was able to finish. Nevertheless, Villa's defense saw it out despite some shaky play that saw a lot of needless loss of possession.
And now to the random thoughts of the match:
- Morgan Amalfitano got away with some dirty play. During a dead ball situation when referee Lee Mason had his back turned, Amalfitano kicked Tom Cleverley is the rear end. It was a light kick and probably didn't hurt much, but it was also totally uncalled for. Had it been seen, it seems likely that it would have been a yellow.
- Clevlery is on fire right now. Three goals in three matches and playing the best football he's played in years. All of that, and he's on a free this summer.
- The second half demonstrated how reliant Villa have become on the midfield trio of Delph-Clevlerley-Grealish. When the three of them stopped maintaining possession as ruthlessly as they have lately, the attack dried up and Villa were put back on their heels. Luckily, West Ham didn't have the finishing ability in them today to make Villa pay.
- Elsewhere, before kickoff Sunderland beat Everton 0-2, Newcastle scraped out a draw with West Brom, and Leicester beat Southampton 2-0. But all of those results going against what we wanted were mitigated by Burnley getting their first win in ages at Hull. Unfortunately for them, Newcastle's draw means that the Clarets are now relegated, but for Villa it means that Hull didn't lurch forward with the rest of the pack. At this point, the only way Villa can secure safety with another win or a Hull loss. Considering the fact that Hull must still play at Tottenham and host Manchester United, a loss is possible. It's not safe yet, but it's much closer.