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Lacklustre West Ham slip to Villa defeat with a whimper

PUBLISHED: 17:05 09 May 2015 | UPDATED: 17:05 09 May 2015

West Ham United's Alex Song (left) and Aston Villa's Jack Grealish square up to each other after a challenge during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

West Ham United's Alex Song (left) and Aston Villa's Jack Grealish square up to each other after a challenge during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Hammers draw a blank again in Aston Villa loss

Aston Villa's Tom Cleverley (left) and West Ham United's Mark Noble in action during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.Aston Villa's Tom Cleverley (left) and West Ham United's Mark Noble in action during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 0

Aston Villa won the battle of the claret and blues to give their Premier League survival chances a massive boost at Villa Park, where Tom Cleverley’s 31st-minute strike proved enough to give Tim Sherwood’s side three priceless points.

Aston Villa's Jores Okore (left) and West Ham United's Enner Valencia in action during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.Aston Villa's Jores Okore (left) and West Ham United's Enner Valencia in action during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

The Hammers paid the price for a lucklustre first-half showing and, although Sam Allardyce’s men stirred from their slumber after the break, they simply did not have enough in the tank to get themselves back into the contest against a Villa side fighting for their Premier League lives.

Villa’s victory over Everton last Saturday had sent the unchanged, FA Cup finalists up into 14th place, but Sunderland’s lunchtime win at Goodison Park meant that they had already slipped a spot without kicking a ball and Sherwood’s strugglers started just a single point clear of the drop zone.

Aston Villa's Christian Benteke (left) and West Ham United's James Collins battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.Aston Villa's Christian Benteke (left) and West Ham United's James Collins battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

Certainly, the Midlanders got off to an industrious opening as Leandro Bacuna curled a 25-yard free-kick inches over Adrian’s right-hand angle, before the lively Jack Grealish forced a corner that he then floated into the danger zone, where Charles N’Zogbia saw his point-blank shot charged down.

With a dozen minutes on the clock, Cleverly let fly with an angled 15-yarder that Adrian beat away and, with West Ham coming under increasing pressure, ex-Villain James Collins received a stern lecture from referee Lee Mason for a juddering challenge on Christian Benteke, who then got on the end of the consequent free-kick, only to prod into the side-netting,

The Hammers had got back to winning ways last weekend, too, and after seeing his ninth-placed side dispatch Burnley, Allardyce had also named an unchanged team but the visitors were struggling to find any cohesion against battling Villa.

On 20 minutes, however, newly crowned Hammer-of-the -Year Aaron Cresswell sent an inviting diagonal pass towards the penalty spot, where Ron Vlaar slid in to deny Enner Valencia, while at the other end, Fabian Delph saw his 18-yard grass-cutter fielded by Adrian.

Only one team was going to break the deadlock and, sure enough, on the half-hour mark, N’Zogbia sent the galloping Grealish behind Villa old boy, Stewart Downing and, after dancing along the by-line, the youngster rolled the ball into the six-yard box, where Cleverly had the simplest of tap-ins.

In reply to that Villa opener, Carl Jenkinson forced a corner that Morgan Amalfitano floated on to the far post before the ball was scrambled clear and, with the frustrated Frenchman then embarking on a futile feud with Cleverley, Ashley Westwood forced Adrian into another save, before finding himself booked for checking Cheikhou Kouyate in stoppage time.

Big Sam made a double-substitution for the restart, replacing the agitated Amalfitano and Kevin Nolan with Alex Song and Nene, who wasted no time in marking his arrival with West Ham’s first meaningful attempt of the afternoon - a dipping 20-yarder that just cleared the bar.

And after N’Zogbia burst into the box and sent an angled effort ripping into the side-netting, Collins met Mark Noble’s hanging corner with a header that the hitherto redundant Shay Given tipped over the crossbar before Nene curled another effort wide.

With Song both shackling Grealish and injecting some much needed energy into the Hammers midfield, the visitors were finally posing some threat and, indeed, midway through the second period, Valencia’s header was ruled out for offside.

Gabby Agbonlahor replaced N’Zogbia for the final 20 minutes, while Song was booked for one lunge too many on Grealish and Bacuna stood down for Alan Hutton, before ex-Villa Park striker Carlton Cole came on for Noble.

The escaping Agbonlahor almost doubled Villa’s lead in stoppage time, however his stumbling effort rolled beyond the far post but, in the end, it did not matter for Cleverley’s first-half strike still proved enough to send Villa four points clear of danger with just two games left to play.

VILLAINS: Given, Bacuna (Hutton 77), Okore, Vlaar, Richardson, Westwood, Cleverley, N’Zogbia (Agbonlahor 71) Delph, Grealish (Sanchez 90+2), Benteke. Unused subs: Guzan, Weimann, Cole J. Senderos.

HAMMERS: Adrian, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Collins, Burke, Kouyate, Noble (Cole C. 77), Nolan (Song h/t), Amalfitano (Nene h/t), Downing, Valencia. Unused subs: Jaaskelainen, Jarvis, O’Brien, Cullen.

Bookings: Westwood (45+1), Song (72),

Referee: Lee Mason

Attendance: 39,294

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