It’s going to be hard for me not to get too carried away here. A home win against an established Premier League club to open up our account for the 2012/13 competition is a great start to our season and the way in which we secured those three, lovely, points is something to be excited about.
Being honest, I’m going to have to ignore the first 20 minutes of the game. Villa looked much improved under Paul Lambert, although, frankly, they couldn’t be any worse than they were when Alex McLeish was in charge. They passed the ball around well and I was worried that we were going to struggle to adjust to Premiership football after time away form the top flight, but West Ham steadily grew in to the game, becoming more confident in everything they were doing on the pitch. The Hammer’s passing became more slick and we were pushing on, making Villa play on the back foot and imposing ourselves on the visitors, something that we will need to continue to do at Upton Park if we to stay in the top division of English football.
The goal came courtesy of Kevin Nolan, who is fast establishing himself as ‘Captain Fantastic’ in East London. His work rate was excellent, even in the scorching sun, and produced an easy tap in after a Ricardo Vaz Te cross. Everyone in the ground was momentarily worried that the linesman’s raised flag would bring play back, but referee Mike Dean spotted that the ball had come off of a Villa player on it’s way through to Vaz Te, meaning that the goal stood.
Although Stephen Ireland did force a good save from Hammer’s new keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, Villa did little to the West Ham goal. In fact, poor old Darren Bent looked positively bored for large chunks of the game as Villa could not supply him with anything like reasonable service. Meanwhile, West Ham continued to play attractive football and manager Sam Allardyce appears to have realised that the long ball, smash and grab game that got us out of the Championship needs to be more refined in the Premier League, and we passed the ball around well, retaining possession and being that little bit more patient. This sort of football is what, I believe, we need to maintain and develop in order to seriously challenge the other teams in the league, making them think twice about how they come at us.
The afternoon was nearly capped off when new boy Modibo Maiga rounded the Villa ‘keeper, only to have his shot cleared off the line by Nathan Baker. 2-0 would have been a fair result and Villa couldn’t have complained had we grabbed another one as we had taken charge of the second 45 minutes and, as mentioned, had offered little threat coming forward.
So, all in all, a very positive start to the campaign. Lots of pundits don’t have us as one of the three teams to be relagated this year and based on Saturday’s performace, you’d have to agree with them. Our next few games will be key – Swansea away, Fulham at home and then back on the road to visit Norwich City. These are games we are going to need a good haul of points from as it’s a long old season and teams like City, Man Utf and Chelsea will be much more dangerous than the tame Villa side we played yesterday.
Still, if we play the way we did for much of the Villa game, and our new signings establish themselves in the squad, then we could suprise a few people over the next 9 months.