SoccerMatch Report

Nicolò Zaniolo grabs point for Aston Villa as VAR denies West Ham at the last

Injury-time winner from Tomas Soucek ruled out as ball hit his arm amid goalmouth scramble

Premier League: West Ham 1 Aston Villa 1

After Tottenham’s pain, only a slight gain for Aston Villa. Perhaps a draw was enough when a first defeat in London under Unai Emery beckoned, adding further fuel to growing fears his team have run out of juice at the wrong time. And it took more than six minutes of VAR deliberation in consultation with Jarred Gillett, the referee, to rule out an injury-time winner from Tomas Soucek, the ball hitting his arm amid a goalmouth scramble, to deny West Ham the points.

After Spurs’ Saturday capitulation at Fulham, there was relief when Nicolò Zaniolo crashed home an equaliser from Moussa Diaby’s cross. Emery’s in-game management had rescued a point just when it seemed David Moyes had pulled off a tactical coup. Even more relief, and the boos of the home fans, were to follow.

There is a considerable constituency of West Ham fans who would like their club to be managed by a risk-taking, progressive manager in the style of Unai Emery. So much for the stability – and European trophy. To misunderstand why so many feel that way may well misunderstand the traditions of the Hammers; playing off the cuff paired with sweating blood and tears for the cause is a rough primer on what is expected. That Villa, poor until Emery made his changes, were there for the taking, will add to the doubters.

That Moyes’s team, despite considerable talent, often play percentage-game football, and look to the counterattack in the old-style fashion rather than that employed by the game’s younger, hipper protagonists, also counts against him. He rather enjoys putting one over on such types, but his team could mirror their defeats of Brighton, Tottenham and Arsenal, old-school values triumphing over high-minded pressing and counterpressing machines.


Until a second-half retrenchment, his team’s midweek hammering of Freiburg seemed to have replenished his faith in his attackers. Michail Antonio backed up by Lucas Paquetá, Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus was an uncharacteristically adventurous and rare starting selection.

Perhaps Moyes smelled blood in Villa. Ollie Watkins, eyeing an England place in the event of Harry Kane’s injury, was risked despite a gashed knee while Morgan Rogers, 21, bought from Middlesbrough in January, was making his first start. Jhon Durán, younger still at 20, was also making a first league start of the season, and lasted just the first half. John McGinn, banned for three games for mid-air surgery on Tottenham’s Destiny Udogie, was missing. Without McGinn, Villa lacked the zip and drive the Scot brings.

The game began with both teams looking leggy from European assignments. Watkins hit the side-netting before Rogers, cutting in, had a deflected shot saved by Alphonse Areola. West Ham’s attackers were soon enough involved but Soucek got in the way of a Paquetá shot. Before Antonio scored West Ham’s goal, it was Vladimir Coufal, getting in the spirit of things by bombing on, going closest, taking two shots on Emi Martínez’s goal, the second whispering wide.

It was Coufal who supplied Antonio’s goal, a low cross that demanded a diving header, of which the striker is something of an expert. He angled the ball where Martínez could not reach for a first goal since August. Moyes celebrated with a delighted air punch.

Villa’s ever more pallid display brought two half-time changes. Matty Cash and Diaby were Emery’s eventually successful attempt to inject energy, the former’s arrival shunting Ezri Konsa back into central defence. Konsa, baulked by Soucek, was a key figure in the melee that looked to have brought Antonio a second goal within five minutes of the restart, only for VAR to rule the striker’s shoulder had made the crucial touch. That situation was to be echoed in the game’s final seconds, with even more confusion reigning.

Martínez, with the Colombian legend René Higuita a guest of honour in the stands, could breathe a sigh of relief, having echoed one of his fellow South American’s more unreliable moments in flapping at the ball. At least Villa soon began to lift their tempo, Zaniolo and Lucas Digne sent on, Rogers’s first-half impact having faded.

Antonio’s withdrawal shunted Bowen into the centre, Ben Johnson’s arrival a typical Moyes move in bulking up defensive protection. If Antonio’s energy levels had been exhausted, his team lacked a focal point, and Zaniolo’s equaliser reflected a growing swell of pressure. Still, had Cash, in the dying embers not thrown himself in front of a James Ward-Prowse shot and then VAR intervened even more fatefully, Villa might have left London with even less. – Guardian