Grant’s positive spin is wearing thin for Hammers fans
Another home defeat still left West Ham boss Avram Grant pleased with the way his side had performed.
In Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield there is a character called Mr Micawber who despite every disaster that befalls him, remains positive and always exclaims that ‘something will turn up’!
For Mr Micawber read Mr Grant at Upton Park. For weeks the signs have been becoming more and more ominous, but after every defeat, every terrible performance, the West Ham boss is unflappable in his belief that his team will avoid the dreaded drop come May.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to have that same sort of faith and it is tough to believe that Grant actually believes it himself after his nervous side were outplayed by an Aston Villa side who simply had too much pace for the Hammers.
If it wasn’t for some fine Robert Green saves it could have been an embarrassing defeat, but the manager was having none of it.
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“It was a very good start,” he insisted. “We started like we wanted to start, scored one goal and then I think it was a penalty for us and a red card for them.”
So far so good, you can go along with those sentiments, but as for the rest of the match, perhaps Grant’s seat of exile in the stands has a restricted view because he does not seem to have spotted the dominance that Villa showed for much of the rest of the match.
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“We made a mistake in the last moments of the first half which cost us and in the second half it was a game that both teams could win,” he said.
That is a difficult opinion to agree with. In the second half, Demba Ba’s soft free kick was the only effort on target for the Hammers, while Carlton Cole lifted the ball over the bar and Thomas Hitzlsperger twice shot miles over the bar – not exactly threatening.
At the other end, Villa had five shots both on and off target in the second half, before Ashley Young’s injury-time cross picked out the head of substitute Gabriel Agbonlahor to nod home from close range and break the West Ham hearts.
The game did start well for a Hammers side devoid of talisman Scott Parker. In just the second minute, Mark Noble’s corner was cleared as far as Gary O’Neil on the edge of the box.
His shot was blocked, but Hitzlsperger nodded it back into the danger area and with Ashley Young playing him onside, Robbie Keane turned superbly to thrash a shot past Brad Friedel and make it 1-0.
Keane found Cole with a clever pass, only for the striker’s shot to be blocked by James Collins, while Victor Obinna then played a ball over the top, where Cole was just beaten to the ball by Friedel’s sprint out of goal.
Ashley Young had two efforts one of which hit the side-netting while the other was grabbed by Green at the second attempt, but in between came what many would say was the pivotal moment of the match.
Hitzlsperger put Cole away again and when he was bundled over by Richard Dunne it seemed an obvious penalty as well as a red card for the Villa defender. Referee Mark Halsey gave nothing and for the second home match running, it looked like a bad decision.
Cole did well to force a good save from Friedel soon after, but by then Villa were beginning to get a grip on the game with Stewart Downing and Ashley Young looking threatening on the flanks and Darren Bent menacing every time the ball went into the box.
On 24 minutes he met Downing’s cross to nod home, only for Halsey to rule it out for the merest of pushes, but 13 minutes later there was no doubt as West Ham gifted Villa an equaliser.
Noble inexplicably tried to dribble the ball out of his own area and when he was robbed by Emile Heskey, the ball came to Luke Young whose cross was nodded home by Bent.
“The players knew how crucial this game was and I think that was the reason that they were a little bit nervous,” said Grant. “When we had the ball, sometimes we gave it away very cheaply.”
It is something that is becoming a worrying habit. It happened throughout the crushing defeat at Bolton and it was only too evident in the second half of this match as Villa took almost complete charge.
‘A game that either team could win’ insisted Grant, well only if West Ham committed daylight robbery, because for most of it they were not at the races.
Collins header was cleared off the line by Cole, Young forced a brilliant save from Green after Noble had given away yet another foul on the edge of the box, while another sweeping move saw Young fire inches over the bar, before Green’s poor kick allowed him another shot which slipped just wide.
Grant responded by throwing on youngster Zavon Hines, who had scored the winner against Villa last season, but despite one shot that was blocked by Dunne, he was never really a threat on a day that was probably too big for the youngster.
Demba Ba replaced the injured O’Neil, but he too could make no impression on proceedings, dwelling on the ball when he was put in on the left by Hitzlsperger. He looks a pale imitation of the player who exploded on to the scene in February.
West Ham had one last chance to snatch the win when Green’s huge clearance saw Cole get to the ball ahead of Friedel and Dunne. But the ball refused to come down and his improvised shot fell harmlessly on to the roof of the net.
It would have been a travesty had the Hammers nicked it, but perhaps a draw was the fairest result as it seemed a cruel blow in injury time when Agbonlahor struck to earn Villa all three points and make them safe.
Mr Micawber never found success in London, despite being a kind man, he ended up letting everyone down and going to a debtor’s prison. He did eventually find success in Australia.
Something turned up for him eventually, the trouble is that Grant has just five games for something to turn up and his optimism is increasingly sounding like desperation.
West Ham: Green, Jacobsen, Bridge, Upson, Da Costa (Gabbidon 14), O’Neil (Ba 63), Hitzlsperger, Noble, Obinna (Hines 58), Keane, Cole.
Unused subs: Boffin, Boa Morte, Spector, Piquionne.
Referee: Mark Halsey 4.