A lethargic and off-the-pace Villa performance gifted West Ham a relatively easy three points away from home on Wednesday night. Jesse Lingard made a dream debut for the Hammers, scoring two and controlling much of their attacking play. David Moyes’ game plan was perfectly executed, and Villa could only muster up one late goal as a consolation.
One change for Villa saw Anwar El Ghazi back on the starting line-up, making his return after an emphatic December. Following a scrappy three points away at St Mary’s and a bitterly disappointing result at Turf Moor a few days prior, Villa were looking to return to their impressive ways at home and overtake West Ham in the league table.
The game started quite slowly, though the Hammers were lively on the attack and created several chances. Martinez had a few basic saves to make, but Villa failed to register a single shot on goal in the first half, with only Ollie Watkins coming close with a headed chance and a shot glancing off the post. This trouble in the final third haunted Villa throughout, and a particularly frustrating first 45 saw a goalless scoreline at half-time.
Villa’s first-half play was slow and possession was sloppy, with second and third balls often being given away. El Ghazi and Barkley seemed particularly troubled, giving away simple passess and going missing in the midfield area. Half-time saw the end of El Ghazi’s game, with an unusually early substitution from Smith indicating his disappointment in the first-half display. Traoré is subbed on.
The early second-half goal for West Ham was deserved. Simply, they outplayed Villa’s midfield and it was too easy for Soucek to slide the ball past Martinez. The home side then failed to bounce back from their goal deficit, instead conceding another in quick succession. This time, Villa lose possession from a set piece situation and the Hammers make a quick break, leaving Konsa and Mings in pursuit behind them and an open goal to shoot at for the rejuvenated Lingard.
Ross Barkley is subbed off not long after, making way for the Egyptian Trezeguet who presumably arrived to inject some energy into Villa’s play and link up a few successful passess. It was in the second-half that Smith’s team appeared more predictable than ever, with constant balls up the left failing to muster a chance and Grealish was well and truly silenced by an organised West Ham defence. By the 80th minute, Villa had not registered a single shot on target. Douglas Luiz was replaced by the debutant and most recent signing, Morgan Sanson.
Eventually play was switched slightly, with Grealish swapping sides to the right to play a ball in for Watkins, which he tidied away nicely. At 2-1, there was a glimmer of hope that a goal could inspire a reaction in the team. West Ham had gone through a quieter spell, giving Villa ten minutes or so of more possession and opportunities to progress with the ball, but all of this quickly diminished just two minutes after Watkins’ strike as Lingard got his second. A rare Emi Martinez blunder saw West Ham regain their two goal cushion, and ultimately seal the deal for the away side – and deservedly at that.
Having conceded three goals last Wednesday and tonight, and shown three lethargic and sloppy performances in a row, there are a few concerns to be raised. Villa’s midfield has been much less rigid, leading to defensive errors. Far too many goals conceded due to individual errors or poor decision making. Lazy passing and loss off possession. Perhaps the squad is tired? For all of the positives this season, Smith and his men cannot be blinded by their own success and succumb to the same silly mistakes that cost them throughout the 19/20 period.
It is not time to panic, nor time to give up hope on certain players. However, a reaction against Arsenal is essential if Villa are to really challenge for a top eight spot this season. Recent form has been turbulent, and a run of good performances and results is now key to regaining the confidence and defensive stability that we know Villa are more than capable of. Disappointment tonight is valid, and improvement on Saturday is essential.
MIKE CAFFERTY #TeamMC
Dedicated to Mike Cafferty who sadly passed away hours after beating Southampton last weekend.
Such a positive man who’s battle against cancer brought so many Aston Villa fans together, rest well Holte Ender in the Sky.
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