|match review copied from www.theguardian.com|
Aston Villa take step toward safety with confident display against West Ham
Stuart James at Villa Park
Published 9 May 2015 17.18
The Tim Sherwood effect continues to transform Aston Villa’s fortunes and Tom Cleverley has benefited as much as anyone in recent weeks. After failing to get a goal in his first 31 appearances for Villa and struggling to make much of an impact under Paul Lambert earlier in the season, Cleverley scored for the third match in succession to secure a crucial victory and lift Tim Sherwood’s side four points clear of the relegation zone.
Available on a free transfer in the summer when his contract expires at Manchester United, Cleverley could not have picked a better time to run into form. Alongside the impressive Jack Grealish, the sometime England international caught the eye on a day when Villa recorded back-to-back home wins in the league for the first time in 14 months – a remarkable statistic that reflects the rot that had set in with Lambert in charge.
Sherwood was quick to stress the job is not yet done, although it would take a strange sequence of results to drag Villa back into trouble. In the worst case scenario Villa need three points from their final two matches, against Southampton away and Burnley at home, although that is working on the assumption other results go against them, including Hull beating Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in their final two fixtures.
“We’re going in the right direction and it’s in our hands,” said Sherwood, who has won five of his 11 league games in charge. “We do our job and we’ll be in the Premier League next season. But I think you’re going to see a few twists and turns before the end. Everyone is getting unlikely results at the moment, that’s the problem.”
While the margin of victory was slender, Sherwood was spot on when he described the game as being “as comfortable as it could be at this stage of the season”. With nothing to play for other than an unlikely route into Europe via the Fair Play table, West Ham were obliging opponents. Other than a James Collins header that Shay Given tipped over in the second half, Sam Allardyce’s side offered little and have now gone 11 league games without a win on the road.
With Villa dominant in the early stages, the only surprise was that it took 31 minutes for Cleverley’s goal to arrive. Grealish, who left the field to a standing ovation when he was substituted late on, was the architect. Picking the ball up wide on the left, the 19-year-old exchanged passes with N’Zogbia, ghosted past Stewart Downing and, from close to the byline, drilled a low left-footed centre across the six-yard box that implored Cleverley, totally unmarked, to tap home. “Pathetic” was the word Allardyce used to describe West Ham’s defending.
As for Cleverley, Sherwood will be doing everything in his power to keep the 25-year-old. “I know what he’s got, he’s full of energy, he’s easy to coach, you only have to tell him something once and he’s on it. He’s a very intelligent footballer. I’m pretty sure he’ll get back into the England squad very soon. We’ll talk to him at the end of the season, we’d like to keep him. But he’ll obviously have a few options. I’m just going to tell him if doesn’t sign he’s not playing in the Cup final!”
Allardyce bemoaned the goal Enner Valencia had ruled out for offside in the second half – “The assistant referee is in no position to give a decision one way or the other because of his position” – but was scathing about West Ham’s toothless attack. “Whatever we do in open play, none of our players seem to be able to convert any of the chances into goals and because of that life is extremely difficult for us. It shows just how much we’re missing Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho.”