Premier League: West Ham 1 Aston Villa 1
PUBLISHED: 18:40 26 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:40 26 July 2020
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The Hammers signed off their seemingly eternal 351-day campaign with a draw that saw Villa emerge from Survival Sunday with their Premier League status still intact.
David Moyes went into this final match with top-flight football already assured for next season’s September 12 restart, but counterpart Dean Smith had a far less relaxing afternoon.
As he watched his side fight for their lives, Smith also had an eye on events unfolding elsewhere given Watford and Bournemouth also harboured hopes of staying up.
And although substitute Andriy Yarmolenko’s deflected effort quickly wiped out Jack Grealish’s dramatic 83rd-minute opener, in the end, a point was still enough to save Villa’s skins.
Sporting their commemorative 125th anniversary kit, the Hammers had kicked off in the safe haven of 15th spot thanks to Wednesday evening’s determined draw at Old Trafford.
And having secured both that point and safety against Manchester United, Moyes made just one enforced change as Ryan Fredericks replaced the injured Aaron Cresswell, while omnipresent, newly-crowned Hammer of the Year Declan Rice would end the afternoon having played every single second of this season’s 3,420 minutes.
Ironically, Rice is the first Hammer to achieve the feat since the injured Cresswell did so in 2014/15.
Having been voted into third place by the fans, Michail Antonio – with eight goals already in July – should have quickly added to that tally when he found himself sent clean through by Issa Diop’s lofted through ball, but somehow he sliced wide of both Pepe Reina and the right-hand post from 10 yards.
Tuesday evening’s priceless victory over Arsenal meant that 17th-placed Villa came into the last day of the campaign with their fate remaining in their own hands, albeit such were the permutations with Watford and Bournemouth that Smith’s side started their 38th and final match of this surreal season knowing they could win yet still get relegated or even lose and still survive.
Fundamentally, the visitors needed to better the Hornets’ performance at Arsenal, while hoping that the Cherries failed to win at Everton.
Villa’s head coach was forced to make just one switch from the side that had shot down the Gunners in midweek as Frédéric Guilbert replaced Ahmed Elmohamady (hamstring) and, as his side settled into the game, he would have been buoyed by news of an early Arsenal opener at the Emirates but less than happy with Trézéguet’s scuffed volley that was easily held by Łukasz Fabiański.
Mbwana Samatta’s close-range header then forced the well-positioned Hammers ‘keeper into a low save ahead of John McGinn sending an angled 20-yarder beyond the far post, before seeing Antonio booked for tripping him as he tried to flee into home territory.
In reply, Rice sent a 25-yarder high and wide and, as the half-hour mark passed, the seven-times capped England midfielder then attempted an even more ambitious long-range free-kick that troubled the ball gatherers behind Reina’s goal more than it did the veteran Spanish ‘keeper.
Antonio’s cross was just too high for Tomáš Souček and, with Villa giving up possession far too easily, West Ham were enjoying the lion’s share without finding the killer ball.
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But as the interval approached they almost paid the price, when Grealish popped up on the left-hand side of the area, where he curled a low 15-yarder into Fabiański’s gloves.
Samatta was also cautioned for raking Angelo Ogbonna – runner-up in the Hammer of the Year vote – but the visiting striker would not have been too bothered at seeing yellow given Villa departed at the break knowing they were still above both Watford and Bournemouth with 45 minutes left to play.
Moyes made a double switch at the break as Yarmolenko and Sébastien Haller replaced Jarrod Bowen and top-scorer Antonio but within seconds of the restart McGinn wastefully scuffed straight to Ben Johnson and then Fredericks was booked for scything Grealish – the pair having had their niggly run-ins in the opening period, too.
On the hour, Yarmolenko curled a 25-yard free-kick into the side-netting, while Grealish saw a similar Villa award deflect to safety off the Hammers wall and, as the teams went into their final drinks break of the season, Villa would have been equally refreshed by the news that they were still safe, but equally wary of the fact that – with Bournemouth leading at Goodison Park – a Hammers goal could prove terminal for their survival hopes
Manuel Lanzini replaced Pablo Fornals, while Keinan Davis came on for Samatta as Marvelous Nakamba and Kortney Hause stepped from the bench as Conor Hourihane and Guilbert retired.
Haller nodded over while Rice sent another range-finder into the Stratford skies and, after Grealish saw his angled effort ricochet over the angle, Davis fired a low shot across the face of both Fabiański and the far post.
The warning signs were there for the Hammers and, sure enough, on 83 minutes McGinn picked out Grealish on the left-hand side of the box and he let fly with an unstoppable 15-yarder that scorched through the outstretched right glove of Fabiański.
Understandably, the Villa team and the entire visiting bench went wild but the skipper’s joy at notching his 10th goal of the campaign quickly turned to pain just two minutes later.
And, ironically, when Yarmolenko unleashed a 20-yarder on the right-hand corner of the visitors’ penalty area, the Ukrainian’s effort deflected off that man Grealish’s shin before looping over the back-pedalling Reina to give the Hammers a somewhat fortuitous leveller.
But in the end, despite Bournemouth’s victory at Everton, Watford’s defeat at Arsenal meant that this dogged draw still proved enough to save Villa from the dreaded drop, while the Hammers ended their own campaign in 16th spot, five points clear of the relegation trap-door – a position that Moyes will be looking to dramatically improve upon next time around.
West Ham: Fabianski, Johnson, Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Rice, Souček, Noble (Anderson 87), Bowen (Yarmolenko 46), Fornals (Lanzini 67), Antonio (Haller 46).
Unused subs: Randolph, Balbuena, Wilshere, Silva, Coventry.
Villa: Reina, Guilbert (Hause 76), Targett, Mings, Konsa, Luiz, McGinn, Trézéguet (El Ghazi 89), Hourihane (Nakamba 76), Samatta (Davis 67), Grealish.
Unused subs: Nyland, Taylor, Lansbury, Jota, Vassilev.
Booked: Antonio (23), Samatta (40), Fredericks (50).
Referee: Michael Oliver.
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