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West Ham United
Posted by Billy Blagg on 08/19/2012

I remember being dismissive when West Ham lost at Villa Park on the opening day of the 2010/11 season; "It's only the first game, Avram Grant will sort things out..." He never did, of course, and the Hammers were relegated with barely a whimper.

So, I'm not going to be using the same argument following West Ham's 1-0 win at Upton Park as there was much to admire about the Hammers' display and, you sense, a drawing of a line in the sand. The three points and the victory were vital in terms of getting a grip on the new season and when things come down to a point or two at the end of the campaign, who knows how important they may be?

Because this was exactly the type of performance that I'd expected from Sam Allardyce's team, one I expect to see many times this season and one that I'm pretty sure will put them in good stead over the coming nine months. In sweltering heat, West Ham were organised and mean in defence, tough in the middle of the park and able to make the best of any scoring opportunities despite probably lacking the real cutting edge that most of the top sides will be able to muster. This pattern shouldn't surprise anyone as it is what Allardyce preaches and, by and large, it's been successful for him.

Aston Villa had a fair bit of possession but really failed to bother new keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen with the defence looking obdurate with George McCartney on the left, Guy Demel on the right, with probably only Reid's nod over Tomkins to start alongside the returning Ginge that surprised, the Olympic GB player dropping to the bench. Possibly Tomkins efforts with the London2012 side mean he hasn't had enough to bed himself in with the rest of the squad

In a close first half, Collins impressed the fans who had never wanted him to leave in the first place with a battling display against his old club. The Welsh defender reckons he's a better player for his stint at Villa Park and this can only be good news for the Hammers.

The only goal of the match was described as 'controversial' after the game but, although it confused inside the stadium at the time, there was really nothing untoward about it at all and Mike Dean should be congratulated for an excellent spot that most in the ground missed.

New signing Diame was really impressing with his ability to win the ball and take the play forward and one of these bursts saw Villa’s Ciaran Clarke booked for an alehouse attempt to take the Hammers' midfielder out. From the resulting free kick, West Ham scored as Noble's drifted cross saw Collins seemingly flick the ball on to Vaz Te who crossed for Kevin Nolan to touch the ball into the back of the net.

Many saw the linesman’s flag go up straight away when the ball fell to Vaz Te and weren't surprised when the Villa players immediately complained as Nolan celebrated with his ludicrous chicken dance, but a quick wave away and a word to the linesman and Mike Dean was pointing to the centre circle. Quite rightly it appeared after, as Collins' head hadn't flicked the ball on at all but rather it had come off the the head of a Villa defender, playing Vaz Te on-side. An excellent spot by Dean and one Villa admitted to being correct later.

There were only five minutes of the half left and West Ham had no trouble in holding out till half-time. In fact, the opening exchanges of the second half saw the home side push forward and gain a couple of quick corners although the game soon settled into the pattern of the first half.

O'Brien replace McCartney at left back, Tomkins came on for Nolan and finally Carlton Cole - who had earlier spurned a good headed opportunity from a good Taylor cross - came off for new signing Modibo Maiga.

If we expected a late push by Villa, it never arrived and it was Maiga who came closest to scoring and probably should have doubled the lead when sent clean through by Noble. The forward rounded the keeper and sent the ball towards the empty net but was denied by Clarke running back to clear off the line.

When the whistle blew for full-time there can be little complaint about the scoreline. West Ham had shaded it in most parts of the field, had scored and been unfortunate not to get another from a few chances but, more importantly, they had denied the visitors so much as a sniff at goal.

It wasn't the type of victory to send fans home bubbling over with anticipation, but rather this was a steady workmanlike approach to securing the first win of the season. West Ham had created chances, taken one and denied the opposition space and opportunity.

Frankly, that'll do for me.


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Billy Blagg Born at an early age a mere defenders' spit from the Boleyn ground, Billy Blagg has seen every West Ham game from 1898 onwards. Blagg was mentioned by Kenneth Wolstenholme in 1966 as one of the people on the pitch during the famous Hammers win over West Germany that lifted the World Cup and he returned to the pitch again for the 1975 FA Cup Final but stayed on the terrace for 1980 FA Cup victory. Blagg, 26, now lives with his eighth wife and innumerable children in a small semi-detached with chintz curtains in Dagenham, Essex and still attends every Hammers match and training session.

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