Make no mistake this was a stirring, disciplined and organised display from West Ham that fully deserved a point and, although briefly, did promise a little more at times. I've never subscribed to the theories that Zola is an inept tactician and that point was surely proved here as the Hammers blunted Villa early on and grew in confidence as the game continued. Whatever the outcome of the proposed buy-out's I hope the new owners see the worth of Zola and give him more time and a little money to show what he can do.
The team sheets at the start of the game were of little surprise; Villa fielding virtually the side that gained a first leg cup semi-final win in mid-week while the Hammers packed the midfield, playing only 19 year-old Nouble up front - the youngster making his league debut and surely not expected to do much more than chase and learn. In fact, the Under-19 International did much more, causing genuine concern to the home defence particularly during one early foray where he beat several defenders and shot over when harried by Dunne. It may have been a one-off attack but it succeeded in giving notice to Aston Villa that the kid could not be ignored and it ensured the ex-Chelsea youngster was treated seriously thereafter.
West Ham set the tone for the early stages, harrying players on the ball and playing neat, incisive football when in possession. It had the effect of making Villa look slow and lethargic and, despite a plethora of corners; Villa rarely threatened Green although the Hammer's stopper did bring off a superb save to deny Agbonlahor on 27 minutes. Other than though, it was pretty much routine catch and carry for Green as the half-time whistle approached.
There was early second half indication, that Villa were going to up the tempo and another set of corners must have worried the bench but the game turned on a couple of enforced substitutions with Diamanti coming on for Parker who looked to be suffering with his calf strain and Stanislas coming on for Kovac in interesting circumstances. Kovac had been unlucky to get booked in the 17th minute but should surely have gone following a clumsy tackle on Petrov, the ref - following my theory of several weeks ago that he had, perhaps, made a mistake booking the Czech player initially - gave a stiff word and suggested that anything even resembling a tackle would result in an early bath. Zola sensibly took that opportunity to substitute the player, bringing on Stanislas for what looked as if it would be 30 minutes of defensive toil but, in fact, with more attacking options the Hammers suddenly started to look dangerous and Villa seemed caught out, not sure whether or not to push forward in search of a winner or keep what they had.
Carew had the ball in the net once on the hour mark but was rightly flagged for offside and former Hammer Collins was lucky to slice a cross over the bar from Stanislas with Nouble waiting unmarked at the far post. It wasn't exactly gripping theatre for the neutral but for Hammers fans praying for at least a point to lift them out of the bottom three it was pretty nerve-wracking stuff.
There weren't a lot of concerns for the Hammers although Green did save superbly from Agbonlahor when he turned and left the defence, but the whistle when it came was welcome although Villa had long since run out of ideas. SKY pronounced James Tomkins Man of the Match marginally ahead of Matthew Upson and this was certainly an impressive display from the young defender after recent criticism.
Interestingly for me, this was a situation where once again, when needed, West Ham had turned in a display to deny them a position in the bottom three at the end of the weekends' games. With a number of games coming up against the bottom pack I think it could be decisive.