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Premier League: West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 1
The Hammers climbed into the heady heights fifth-place after making it a hat-trick of Premier League wins with victory over Villa at London Stadium.
On a freezing November night, for once, fortunes were not hiding for West Ham United as David Moyes men rode their luck to secure the three points that finally ended Dean Smith’s side’s unbeaten away record.
Angelo Ogbonna headed the Hammers into a second-minute lead before Jack Grealish levelled midway through the first-half and, although Jarrod Bowen restored the hosts lead seconds after the interval there was still more late drama to follow.
Indeed, Ollie Watkins rifled a penalty onto Łukasz Fabiański’s crossbar with a quarter-hour remaining and the Villa striker then endured yet more agony when his late effort was ruled out for offside following a VAR review that saw his side return to the Midlands empty-handed for the first time this season.
Kicking-off in 11th-spot, two places and a single point behind Villa, the Hammers already came into this contest buoyed by back-to-back, 1-0 victories over Fulham and Sheffield United and, following last weekend’s win at Bramall Lane, Moyes made just one change to his starting line-up.
In came fit-again Michail Antonio as Sébastien Haller – match-winner against the Blades – unluckily slipped down to the bench but it was towering defender Ogbonna, who struck the opening blow with less than two minutes on the clock.
In the first attack of the evening, Tomáš Souček saw his thunderous shot deflected aside for a corner, which Jarrod Bowen curled towards the far post where the Italian international climbed highest to powerfully head his first goal of the season beyond Emiliano Martinez.
When Villa arrived at London Stadium on Survival Sunday back in July, they had looked destined for the dreaded drop until talisman Grealish rescued the late draw that secured their top-flight status.
And returning to the Stratford just over four months later, they now had a sensational 7-2 win over Liverpool plus a hat-trick of away victories over Fulham, Leicester City and Brighton & Hove Albion tucked under their belts, too.
Indeed, Ogbonna’s early strike was the first goal that Smith’s team – having made just one enforced change with Conor Hourihane having come in for injured Ross Barkley (hamstring) – had conceded on their travels so far this season.
Battling to get back on terms, Trézéguet then forced Villa’s first corner of the evening on 20 minutes, which Ezri Konsa headed over and then, moments later, Fabiàn Balbuena conceded a free-kick on the edge of the area, which Fabiański – at full stretch – finger-tipped around the base of his right-hand upright.
In truth, with Antonio struggling to get into his stride following his a three-game lay-off, West Ham had barely threatened since breaking the deadlock early on and, having been knocking on the Hammers door, Grealish then smashed it off its hinges on 25 minutes after making a driving run and unleashing an unstoppable 20-yarder that almost ripped the goal-net from its fixings.
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Things could have got yet worse for the home side ten minutes before the interval but having ghosted into the six-yard box, Watkins scuffed wide of the right post to Fabiański’s relief, while dead-ball specialist Hourihane curled another 20-yard free-kick over the Hammers wall and into the side netting to keep it all-square at the break.
Not surprisingly, Antonio did not appear for the restart as Haller emerged to take his place, while Said Benrahma replaced Arthur Masuaku, too.
Certainly, that dramatic double-switch paid instant dividends for, within just a few seconds, Martinez was picking the ball out of the net after Benrahama collected Bowen’s raking cross-field ball to the left-hand edge of the Villa, where he curled back into the area for the Hammers No.20 to send a glancing header under the right-hand angle.
On a chilly East End evening, Bowen’s fourth goal of the season had again caught Villa cold and, although Grealish then forced Fabiański into a routine, low, angled save, the visiting captain was in the thick of things again, when he theatrically hit the turf following the slightest of touches from the consequently-cautioned Pablo Fornals.
There had already been one flare-up in the technical area between Smith and Kevin Nolan in the first half and now it was the turn for John Terry and a member of the Hammers back-room staff to see yellow, too, following another dug-out dust-up over the Spaniard’s harsh punishment.
On the hour, Grealish got back to playing football as he released Watkins behind the Hammers defence but when Villa’s top-scorer squared to Trézéguet in the six-yard box, Fabianski miraculously parried the scuffed effort aside with a strong right-glove.
The Egyptian was left staring high into the dark Stratford skies and, on 74 minutes top-scorer Watkins was looking into the heavens, too, having blasted his penalty onto the Polish ‘keeper’s crossbar after Declan Rice was harshly adjudged to have tugged Trézéguet’s shirt as the pair challenged in the area.
Having cut his head in the aftermath of that tumble, Trézéguet was replaced by Anwar El Ghazi, while Hourihane also retired as substitute Bertrand Traoré stepped from the bench and drilled a powerful effort into Fabiański’s clutches.
With Bowen having also been switched with Mark Noble, West Ham were struggling to get the ball out of their own half in a frantic finale that saw Moyes boys forced firmly onto the back foot.
Still the drama was not over as Watkins side-footed home what looked like a late, late-leveller in stoppage-time.
But the former Brentford striker was dramatically denied his ninth goal of the season after being adjudged offside following that last-gasp VAR review, which confirmed the West Ham United victory that sends them into fifth-spot ahead of Manchester United’s visit to London Stadium on Saturday evening.
West Ham United: Fabiański, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Coufal, Masuaku (Benrahma h/t), Rice, Souček, Fornals, Bowen (Noble 79), Antonio (Haller h/t). Unused subs: Randolph, Lanzini, Diop, Johnson
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash (El Mohamady 88), Targett, Konsa, Mings, Douglas Luiz, Hourihane (Traoré 74), Grealish, McGinn, Trézéguet (El Ghazi 74), Watkins. Unused subs: Steer, Taylor, Nakamba, Ramsey.
Booked: Fornals (54), Cash (67).
Referee: Peter Bankes.
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