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The Hammers gifted Aston Villa a Premier League lifeline as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat

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Aston Villa 2 West Ham United 1

West Ham paid dearly for not taking their second half chances at Villa Park, where Christian Benteke’s penalty and a Charles N’Zogbia free-kick secured a valuable Villa victory.

And although Ashley Westwood gave the Hammers late hope with a headed own goal, Paul Lambert’s relegation-threatened side held on for a priceless win that lifted them out of the bottom three.

Victory over Swansea City last time out had enabled the Hammers to kick off in 11th-place, nine points ahead of Villa and Sam Allardyce made just two switches as debutant Emanuel Pogatetz and Joe Cole replaced Ricardo Vaz Te and Matt Jarvis, who both dropped to the bench.

With Pogatetz, joining James Tomkins and Winston Reid in a five-man defensive shield, West Ham had clearly set themselves up to frustrate the hosts, who had lost their last four league matches at Villa Park.

But with ninety seconds on the clock that plan looked all set to unravel, when Benteke sent a low 18-yarder skidding across the greasy Midlands turf and, with Jussi Jaaskelainen failing to hold the shot, Andreas Weimann wastefully curled the loose ball around the base of the grounded keeper’s left-hand post from the edge of the six-yard box.

The gasps of amazement from the home fans were still subsiding, when the anguished Austrian then broke clear but, yet again, good fortune deserted him, when a retreating Tomkins produced a perfectly-timed tackle to save the day for West Ham.

Coming into this game without a win in their last eight matches, Villa in 21st-spot had thrown away a two-goal advantage at Goodison Park last Saturday and, following his side’s 3-3 draw against Everton, Lambert made a trio of changes as Jordan Bowery, Fabian Delph and Nathan Baker each came in for Gabriel Agbonlahor, Karim El Ahmadi (knee) and substitute Joe Bennett.

Certainly, Weimann had endured an agonising opening few minutes and so did team-mate Baker, who clashed heads with Andy Carroll as the Hammers big man nodded clear in his own penalty area and the casualty count continued, when Joey O’Brien had to be replaced by Guy Demel after he overstretched while blocking Benteke, before Tomkins also received a stray boot in the head from Delph.

With a game of cat and mouse going on between the Hammers defence and a Villa midfield looking to produce a killer ball for their strikers, West Ham were producing little.

Apart from a hopeful, early prod onto the roof of Brad Guzan’s net by Carroll, the Hammers had rarely threatened and, on the half-hour mark, Mohamed Diame let fly from such an impossible angle that his speculative shot hit the net support.

Ten minutes before the break, though, Demel sent a low right-wing cross into the six-yard box, where Ciaran Clark deflected the ball into his keeper’s clutches as Joe Cole and Carroll looked all set to pounce.

At the other end, Ron Vlaar was off target with a couple of speculative efforts, while Pogatetz was also booked for halting an escaping N’Zogbia but, as the half ended goalless, Allardyce and his saturated side, knew that they owed the fact that they were still level to that woeful Weimann miss in the opening seconds.

With Pogatetz moving over to left-back for the restart and Taylor pushing into midfield, West Ham enjoyed a purposeful opening few minutes of the second period, forcing their first four corners of the afternoon, while Carroll also appeared to be bundled over without reward, before Guzman palmed away Tomkins’ close-range flick and Clark then hacked the danger clear.

As West Ham looked to turn the screw, Villa made a double-substitution that saw Darren Bent and Simon Dawkins replace Bowery and the luckless Weimann and that briefly spurred Villa, who saw N’Zogbia send a scorching 18-yard shot steaming through the damp, drizzling Birmingham cold and just inches wide of Jaaskelainen’s right-hand post.

Bent also saw himself playing a key role, too, but this time the former England striker found himself on his own goal-line to clear Carroll’s low, angled drive, before Taylor was replaced by Vaz Te midway through the half.

West Ham certainly needed to turn their second-half dominance into a goal but in failing to do so, they paid the ultimate price as Villa turned the game on its head with two quick-fire goals.

On 74 minutes, Benteke played in N’Zogbia, who tumbled under the challenge of Mark Noble, whose protests of innocence fell on the deaf ears of referee Mark Clattenburg as the official pointed to the spot.

And having netted 14 goals already this season, Benteke made no mistake from 12 yards as he sent his penalty into the bottom right-hand corner as Jaaskelainen headed in the other direction.

Four minutes later, Tomkins hauled down Bent on the edge of the area and, after Reid was booked for throwing the ball away in anger, N’Zogbia increased East End frustration levels, when he curled the consequent free-kick over the Hammers wall and under Jaaskelainen’s left-hand angle to claim his second goal of the campaign.

With three minutes remaining, the Hammers gave themselves a late lifeline, when Joe Cole’s lofted ball into the heart of the Villa area was headed over his own keeper by Westwood.

That set up a frantic finale that saw West Ham desperately try to salvage a point but Guzan denied Kevin Nolan with his knees before clawing away substitute Carlton Cole’s header to ensure that Villa victory that hauled them out of the bottom three.

VILLA: Guzan, Baker, Clark, Vlaar, Lowton, Bowery(Bent 63), Westwood, Delph, N’Zogbia (Sylla 85), Weimann (Dawkins 63), Benteke. Unused subs: Given, Bannan, Holman, Bennett

HAMMERS: Jaaskelainen, O’Brien (Demel 24), Pogatetz, Tomkins, Reid, Noble (C. Cole 75), Diame, Nolan, J.Cole, Taylor (Vaz Te 67), Carroll. Unused subs: Spiegel, Jarvis, Chamakh, O’Neil.

Bookings: Pogatetz (44), Baker (72), Reid (77) Bent (86), Clark (90+2).

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)

Attendance: 30,503

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