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Aston Villa vs. West Ham – Match Preview and those John Lyall memories

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- Tom Winnifrith

For once West Ham are spoiled for choice. Andy Carroll, Mo Diame are fit and on fire. The starting eleven almost picks itself but – and I never thought I’d ever write this – there is competition among top class players to just get on the bench as an attacking player. Carlton Cole gets the nod but Maiga is back from Africa Cup duty and Wellington Paulista has scored three in three for the U-21s. It is an odd position to be in.

The last time I was at Villa Park was for that memorable John Lyall FA Cup Semi against Middlesbrough. The week after the great man died the crowd was asked for a minute’s silence. The ref’s whistle blew and you could have heard a pin drop. Suddenly someone shouted out “Johnny Lyall’s claret and blue army. For a second there was shock & silence. Then everyone was chanting along. It was truly emotional and of course we won the game ( Marlon Harewood goal). The video below recaptures what was a spine tingling moment.

After the game, I headed back to the station in a cab shared with three Middlesbrough supporters and my old friend Derek Musgrove. They said they were staying overnight and were off to a bar and asked if we were doing the same. Derek looked at me and I looked back. We smiled. We both wanted to say to our friends from a GNSH that we had to head back as we had jobs to go to. But we just smiled knowing exactly what we both were thinking.

Enough of the memories. Villa have a poor defence and are deep in the mire. If they are to avoid relegation today is the sort of day they must pick up three points. A draw is not enough. The side is on 21 points with a shocking GD. There are 13 games left to play (including today) and to have any chance of survival 36 points is the bare minimum. For reasons all hammers supports are aware of, 43 points is my target for safety.

So Villa need more than a point a game. Given that the side has 3 or 4 unwinnable games against top sides it really just has 9 games (including today) in which it must amass at least 15 ( probably 18) points: that looks a tough call and they may well go down with the Redknapp. For the Irons, if we win today we are within a couple of games of safety and we still have Reading and Wigan to entertain at the Boleyn.

On paper, the West Ham starting line-up looks the stronger and if Carroll gets decent service from Jarvis, Cole (Joe), Diame, Noble and Nolan this could be a 3 pointer. But West Ham gifted Wigan its first home win of the season, we re-started Reading’s mini revival by gifting their piss poor side 3 points on December 29th. Our recent away form is shocking. A win for us and Villa really are in deep trouble and we are within sight of safety. A defeat will be un-nerving. A draw is not enough for Villa and edged the Irons closer to salvation. It is all to play for.

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