Hislop leaves Villa frustrated

Robert Halter
Date Published: 
Morning Star

The One That Got AwayThe One That Got Away: Villa's Paul Merson sees his shot beat West Ham keeper Shaka Hislop, but it then came off the post.

PREMIERSHIP leaders Aston Villa took their unbeaten record to Upton Park at the weekend and their free-flowing football kept West Ham United on the back foot for the early part of the match.

West Ham 0 ... Aston Villa 0

The initial signs were that the players could be in store for a bruising contest and referee Paul Alcock had a word with Hammers' Steve Lomas and Stan Collymore for a clash in the first minute.

But Collymore for one did not learn his lesson and received the first yellow card on 10 minutes when he sliced Trevor Sinclair's legs from behind.

On 12 minutes, West Ham produced the first attack of the match when Gareth Southgate's mix-up in the Villa defence was nearly capitalised on by Welshman John Hartson, whose curling shot from just outside the penalty box was well tipped over the bar by Villa goalkeeper Michael Oakes.

The Hammers began to gain momentum, with Israeli international Eyal Berkovic and Sinclair pushing the ball forward to Hartson.

The game was a reunion for ex-Arsenal team mates Paul Merson of Villa and the Hammers' Ian Wright, but, by their own standards, both had a relatively quiet start to the match.

With Rio Ferdinand and Neil Ruddock holding fort at the hart of the West Ham defence, Ian Pearce and Julian Dicks took more advanced role and, on 30 minutes, Dicks headed the ball narrowly wide of Villa's left-hand post after a long throw in from Lomas.

Despite Villa's fancy football, Shaka Hislop had very little to do in the West Ham goal throughout the first half, a situation which was to change come later in the game.

The frustration was showing when Alan Thompson was the second Villa player to go into Mr. Alcock's book in the 33rd minute.

Even Carling Premiership manager of the month John Gregory looked concerned when he leapt off the Villa bench to issue instructions.

His men soon reacted to this and Collymore's 40th-minute effort was inches away from giving the visitors the lead.

Harry Redknapp's claret-and-blue army had to battle hard to keep a clean sheet by half-time as Villa pulled themselves back into the match.

Wright came close to breaking the deadlock just before the break, but he blazed wide from the left-hand side of the area.

Villa were quick to reply as Lee Hendrie's sliding shot frectionally missed the West Ham goal.

A friendly pat on the back of Berkovic by his Hammers' collegue Hartson emphasised theri public reconciliation prior to the restart.

With Hartson keen to make amends for his training field attack on Berkovic, it was clearly back to business as Villa were the first off the blocks when, on 50 minutes, Hendrie floated a cross from the left, which was met close range by the head of Thompson — it took an instinctive piece of acrobatics from Hislop to prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net.

Five minutes later, Frank Lampard's low left-hand drive caused havoc in the Villa defence as Oakes had to drop low to scramble the ball away from the bottom corner.

The Hammers again pushed forward in numbers, with Dicks hitting the ball into the Villa goalkeeper within minutes of the Lomas effort.

Hislop again saved West Ham when he blocked an effort from Hendrie which broke to Merson, but the Villa player failed to connect cleanly when in front of an empty goal and Hislop managed to recover and parry the ball away for a corner.

Wright then made way for the long-awaited return from injury for Paul Kitson, much to the delight of the West Ham faithful.