Grizzly: Villa v West Ham
I blame the Atlantic jet stream. It's currently stuck in a low pressure groove, and is in the habit of throwing buckets of wet disgusting weather in our direction. That is why the tree has fallen on the line, forcing the cancellation of the train we are sitting on. This means everyone has to jump off at New Street.
We dash to the cab rank, but there's already a queue. Good ol' extreme (yet now familiar) weather. We wait ten minutes before bundling ourselves inside a black cab along with four youthful looking Hammer fans.
There's some good banter on the drive in, though as we arrive at B6 I feel obliged to inform them that, unlike Villa Park, Upton Park is a dump; that their away end is a sweaty walled, spider bunker and that they should feel ashamed for forcing it on the football family. Please move to the Olympic Park as soon as possible.
The last time we met we played out a 0-0 in blowing rain, in a game that was an offence to the eyeballs. We are all hoping for better today though I am not so sure we will get it. You only have to consider who we are playing to understand why, though let's not quibble about it. After all, every League has one: you know, that team that has ten pints of warm ale each on the bus, before running out all pointy elbowed with six inch studs in their boots? They launch the ball for their 'parolee' target man and then bum rush your keeper for the knock on, whilst trampling your 'young and promising' central defender half to death in the process. It's their 1970's philosophy, this mud splattered, six yard box, puddle splashing, aerial football, because it's a ******* man's game, innit. Joking aside, you get the drift. Welcome then to West Ham United, their staff, players and especially their long suffering fans.
On a summer's day I'm sure we would wipe the floor with Big Sam's Hammers, but in the middle of a rain storm, when we have to get down and dirty and man up, it could well end up being meat and potatoes vs cornflakes. Headers anyone?
Team news flies in via Twatter. Bad news Bible: Roncrete Vlaar is out so Bakesy is in. Can't fault the boy for his courage and his ability to get body parts in the way yet we need a mature head today and a leader, and that isn't Bakesy. Lowton comes in at RB, with Clark at CB and the excellent Bertrand at LB. It's Bacuna Delph and Westwood across the middle, with Weimann, Benteke and Captain Agbonlahor up top.
West Ham, having lost their latest Perry Mason led legal challenge, are still without Andy Carroll. In his last, and one of his only outings for the Irons, he managed to get himself sent off, assisted by winter gymnast Chico Flores who performed a 'Tripple Reverse with Tuck', so Carlton Cole will once again deputise for the former £50m man. Winston Reid, is still not fit enough for a start, so takes his place on the Hammers bench.
The referee's bugle sounds and it's Game on!
First thing to note: I have under layers on today, leg warmers the works. Scarf snood, fleece, outdoor coat and a funny woolly hat, yet my word, it's cold. The wind really gets under the skin and its tipping it down with it. Out on the pitch, everyone is taking their time getting used to the conditions. West Ham send some speculative efforts up which we clear, leaving Delph and Westy to fire some ranged passes for strike force Villa, yet they're struggling to judge the distance. Stewart Downing is today's pantomime Villan but in these conditions I don't really feel that bothered about joining in with the boos. He knows what he is by now. We've told him enough.
West Ham start to find some width. Matt Jarvis is really troubling Bacuna on the right side and is finding his way past Lowton. Clark comes and clears, shepherding the ball out of play. Guzan sends the ball up to Benteke, but the ball spins back in the air and comes down, into a scrum of heads and legs. It comes wide to Jarvis again who is in space. Bacuna is too far forward and is not tracking and Lowton is beaten for pace, leaving Jarvis to send in a fizzing ball to the far post. Downing is there but Bertrand somehow nicks it away on the deck, sliding hard into the post for his trouble. That looks like a nasty one. Referee Mike Dean stops play, allowing the winded Bertrand time to get medical treatment. He is applauded back to his feet. Super last ditch tackle.
West Ham are using the width of the pitch well, with Carlon Cole tussling with Baker for the knock on, winning the ball before sending it out to the flanks. Matt Taylor finds space after some more good play out wide, but his narrow shot is saved by Guzan. Wake up Villa!!!
The ball swirls around and it's ping-pong in the middle with Delph dominating in the centre circle. We are set to strike on the counter here as West Ham are pressing. We just need the right weight of pass and then we can rip them a new one. The ball comes back to Guzan... yes.... go.... He throws out to Weimann... he races on to it, keeps it in.... acres of space ahead of him....he breaks into the last twenty yards, fires a low cross toward Agbonlahor..... but he can't control it. Darn.
We are now pressing West Ham, moving it from side to side, stretching their back four as we look to create holes and gaps, but we lose possession. The ball loops up and it's knocked on, wind aided, for Jarvis who runs clear. Bakesy is on his tail.... Jarvis into the box but Bakesy is there with a killer tackle at the last. He gets enough on it to see Jarvis' shot wide.
We go back at them, winning a corner. McCartney heads clear but only to Westwood on the edge of the D... he shoots.......just wide of the neat post. Inches wide.
Button looks like a block of blonde ice so I take her down to the concourse for some warming chips and a pew in the Holte Suite. Having set her up I nip to the facilities. I come straight out all a rage and go and find a senior-steward. The toilet is blocked with faeces, fag butts and toiler paper, and it reeks of smoke. Now, my response might sound overly dramatic to some, but I watched my father die a slow death from lung cancer, so me and smoking are no longer friends. As a result I do not want carcinogenic material on my skin or clothes; neither do I want to wipe up someones urine before I take the Villa Park throne. Seriously, do they do this at home? Absolutely disgraceful.
After warming up, it's back on to the Holte. I take my seat just as the second half starts. West Ham launch one from deep. Someone meet it??? No. It comes to Downing. He goes down the left, foxes Bertrand, then sends a low cross over to the far post... Nolan.....left-foot, right-foot give a dog a bone....West Ham's away army erupt in the rain. Vital Villa friends, I must sadly inform you that the Grizzly head is once more in the Grizzly hands because on 46' minutes it's Aston Villa 0-1 West Ham.
Do I sense another 5-10 minutes of suicidal football at Villa Park? I do hope not. Rattled we take the kick-off from centre. West Ham, experienced campaigners that they are, charge at us, trying to force an early error. Delph is caught in possession, only this time his quick feet fail him. Nolan bounces him off the ball, marauds his way into the penalty area....central defender anyone? No.....still Nolan....one-two buckle my shooooe.... GOAL.
Yes, I was right. It's another 5-10 minutes of suicidal football from Villa. Actually, make that 2 minutes. Some bloke behind me is now screaming every obscenity known to man in the direction of the pitch as the Irons go mental for Kevin Nolan. Everyone around us falls quiet as that B6 depression sets in. Gees, I feel low. Complete naivety and inexperience from us. We fell right into that. On 48' minutes it's Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham.
Paul Lambert does not look happy. He is not alone. He brings on Albrighton on 54' minutes for a poor Lowton. He immediately makes the difference, dazzling on the right-hand side. We soon have West Ham on the back foot and are pressing the Irons deep. Albie tries one from distance..... Oh my... it's off the far post.... super stuff there from 25 yards.
We continue to press with a run of corners. Bennett then comes on for the weary Bertrand who goes straight down the tunnel, clutching his side. The Mrs is looking out on the pitch in disbelief: "Bennettttt???" she cries. "Yes, he's still here," I tell her. A bad day has just gotten worse.
We go close with a Benteke header. It cannons of the corner of the bar. Another good effort, though its all in vain. Crosses are reigning in now from the excellent Albie but we just cannot get the final touch. West Ham are, as you would expect, incredibly well drilled at set pieces; they are relaxed with a 2 goal cushion and they are heading everything clear. Despite an acrobatic late effort from Benteke at full time it's Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham.
We go straight round to the Holte Suite where we sit and watch the results come in. Good news: Sunderland have lost, as have West Brom, who boing-boing into the relegation zone. Bad news: we are now 11th on GD (later to be 12th on GD) 4 points off the drop. Oh, and it's raining heavier than ever now and the wind is now blowing a gale across the car park. Please, can it stop raining. Bored of the rain now, bored of inconsistent error ridden football at home as well. As my beloved Button might put it. "God, we are **** at home."
That was a stupid game to throw away wasn't it? - and we have thrown it, by committing stupid, unacceptable errors in a two minute spell of mad, bad defending. Paul Lambert, in his post match interview, looks like he's ready to rip paint of the walls. For me, the players have let him down there, plain and simple, and us with it. I feel like I want to go round to Bodymoor Heath and paint a massive 90 on the side of the training complex because they seem to forget that they have to perform for the whole game. Not for 54, 68 or even 88 minutes, but for 90. That's N-I-N-E-T-Y, lads.
Next up. Cardiff away. A must win fixture.
Scuba gear at the ready. See you all there.
Room for improvement: Agbonlahor