Aston Villa

Aston Villa 2-1 West Ham: Hard-Fought Win a Turning Point in Season?

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and West Ham United at Villa Park on February 10, 2013 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterFebruary 10, 2013

The strangest thing happened on Sunday afternoon.

Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle in the 94th minute at Villa Park, and a rousing cheer of joy and relief echoed from the stadium. On almost every other afternoon in B6, only groans and boos could be heard.

Aston Villa beat West Ham 2-1 on a weekend in which results could hardly have gone any better for them. Southampton upset the champions, but Reading, Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle United lost.

The pressure was on, and Paul Lambert took his weekly risk. He gave Jordan Bowery his first-ever start in the English Premier League in a must-win game while Darren Bent warmed the bench—a decision which drew some derision on Twitter beforehand as fans feared the worst.

Positive from the outset, Andi Weimann missed a gilt-edged chance inside two minutes, and the regular sense of disappointment filtered in at Villa Park.

It was an easy opportunity that didn't fall for the Claret and Blue, and that's been the story of the season so far: As good as they've looked at times, naivety and misfortune hounds them at every turn.

It's worth noting that Sam Allardyce's team were simply awful in the first half. They failed to find a rhythm, their pass completion stood at a paltry 68 percent, and they didn't even manage to win a corner to test Villa's ropy back line.

Cue the fears, then, when Villa were unable to cap an excellent 45 minutes with a goal and the opposition were only going to get better in the second half.

True enough, the Hammers turned it on in the second half and had Villa under the cosh. The balls came flying in, but Villa refused to bow. Nathan Baker epitomised the spirit that embodied his side, playing through a gory head injury and remaining full-blooded in the challenge.

As Villa clawed their way back into the game, Lambert's flurry of substitutions helped.

Simon Dawkins made his debut and offered better width than Weimann and Bowery could, and Charles N'Zogbia finally came to life. It's easy to forget Villa have dormant game-winners in their side considering their position, but the Frenchman's brilliance won it today.

His weaving run earned a penalty that Christian Benteke slotted home in a Mario Balotelli-esque fashion, and then "Zoggy"'s free kick to double the lead was a beauty.

Other than three much-needed points and a serious injection of confidence, though, what can Villa fans take away from this game?

This was a different side. Defensively, Ciaran Clark, Ron Vlaar and Baker were superb. Lambert slotted all three in plus Bowery to help defend set pieces, and the determined attitude to deny West Ham a goal was refreshing.

Benteke scored for a fifth game in a row and, for once, wasn't culpable for conceding a goal through poor marking. He didn't see a lot of action but kept his head in the game and got the breakthrough.

Two months ago, Villa would have conceded a second after the unfortunate nature of Ashley Westwood's late own goal. They would have felt sorry for themselves and capitulated, but we're looking a refreshed side who believe in themselves.

A win has been coming. As soon as the errors were cut out, Villa were going to start picking up points. Said errors have cost Villa against West Bromwich Albion, Bradford City, Everton and Newcastle in recent weeks. It's no surprise to see a good defensive performance lead to three points.

The standard for the final 12 games of the season. Can Villa measure up?


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