Slick West Ham take advantage of Konsa’s red card and subdue Aston Villa

Heady days at West Ham, who moved level on points with Manchester City in the Premier League’s top four just days after knocking Pep Guardiola’s side out of the Carabao Cup. Aston Villa, too, went into this season with ambitions of jostling with the strongest clubs but they and West Ham look poles apart.

This scoreline was a fair reflection of the supremacy of David Moyes’s side even if two of the visitors’ goals came after Ezri Konsa was sent off for Villa, who have much to ponder after a fourth successive defeat.

Although Ollie Watkins briefly drew Villa level by cancelling out Ben Johnson’s opening goal, West Ham always looked the more likely winners. Declan Rice soon made it 2-1 and Villa’s problems deepened before Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen inflicted further punishment late on.

From the outset this looked like a contest between two clubs at very different stages of development. West Ham were strong and slick, a formidable collective in which every player knew his part and performed it well. Villa seemed a weak jumble. Dean Smith had tried to avoid a fourth defeat in a row by changing his system and making bold personnel selections, including drafting in Kortney Hause for the dropped captain, Tyrone Mings.

But Villa appeared to be gripped by tension as they passed sloppily and lacked energy, standing off their opponents from the first whistle.

West Ham were quick to take advantage. In the seventh minute Rice strode through midfield and then floated a pass wide to Johnson on the right. The full-back cut inside Matt Targett with far too much ease before curling a low left-footed shot beyond Emi Martínez. It was a splendid finish by the 21-year-old academy graduate, whose emergence since Vladimir Coufal’s injury offers further vindication of Moyes, who had been criticised for not securing a more experienced right-back as deputy to the impressive Czech.

Villa’s malaise continued after the early setback. In the 16th minute Matt Cash made important blocks to prevent Bowen from increasing the visitors’ lead. By the 20th minute the home crowd were groaning at Villa defenders for playing the ball around at the back. It was not that Villa were intentionally negative, rather that they seemed unsure how to play their way forward.

Declan Rice celebrates after scoring West Ham’s second goal four minutes after Ollie Watkins had equalised.
Declan Rice celebrates after scoring West Ham’s second goal four minutes after Ollie Watkins had equalised. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images

They were not helped by the loss to injury of Jacob Ramsey in the 15th minute, after which Ashley Young joined the attempt to stop Rice and Toumas Soucek from controlling midfield. Leon Bailey, finally fit enough to make his first start for Villa after electrifying performances off the bench, made little impact. Ditto Emi Buendía.

The encouraging thing for Villa was that when they pressed vigorously for the first time, on the half-hour, Watkins forced Lukasz Fabianski to give away a corner. Two minutes later Cash sent the hosts’ first shot wide from over 20 yards. West Ham were hardly on the ropes but soon Villa landed a blow that counted. John McGinn invited Buendía to do something useful down the right and the Argentinian obliged, dodging past Fornals and firing in a low cross that found its way to Watkins. The striker finished smartly from 12 yards.

Four minutes later West Ham reasserted their supremacy. Rice was again allowed too much space in midfield and he used it to rifle a low shot from 25 yards into the net via the post. Martínez, apparently unsighted, was uncharacteristically slow to react. At half-time Villa were fortunate to be only 2-1 down.

Their luck soon evaporated, with Konsa sent off moments after the resumption. He was initially only booked for bringing down Bowen just outside the area but the referee, Chris Kavanagh, reached for the red after reviewing the incident on the pitchside monitor. That seemed unduly harsh but, on the other hand, Hause could have been dismissed for catching Bowen with his elboe in the same move.

Villa found purpose after being reduced to 10 men. They nearly equalised after 57 minutes, when McGinn crossed from the right for Watkins. Fabianski tipped the striker’s header onto the crossbar and out.

Now West Ham were in a fight. But Fornals soon finished off the hosts. Moments after being booked for an ugly challenge on Marvelous Nakamba, the midfielder rounded off a counterattack by netting from close range after Martínez parried a shot by Manuel Lanzini into his path. The fact that Nakamba was still off the pitch receiving treatment infuriated the locals. Lanzini annoyed them further by presenting Bowen with a simple finish after West Ham sliced through Villa again.

“This a special group and a special environment at the minute,” said a jubilant Rice. “This is the level, the standard. We can’t drop if we want to be a big team.” Smith, aware he is under pressure, insisted that Villa will get back on track. “I believe in this squad,” he said. “The squad is good enough to turn this round. We need to, we don’t want it to fester.”

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