Hines variety lifts boss Zola

West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 1 IT IS difficult to understand people who leave football matches early, writes DAVE EVANS. No matter how keenly poised the encounter is, off they trot with 10 minutes to go to beat the rush and have their feet up by the fire

West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 1

IT IS difficult to understand people who leave football matches early, writes DAVE EVANS.

No matter how keenly poised the encounter is, off they trot with 10 minutes to go to beat the rush and have their feet up by the fireside before the players have come out of their post-match showers.

Well more fool them after this pulsating encounter at Upton Park. They may have seen plenty of incident and excitement in the opening 80 or so minutes, but it was the grand finale that had West Ham fans dancing in Green Street afterwards.


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With five minutes left, Habib Beye was shown a second yellow card for an innocuous looking challenge on Jonathan Spector and sent to run the bath early.

Martin O'Neill immediately withdrew striker John Carew for full back Luke Young, but the momentum was now with the Hammers and they took it with open arms.

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First Mark Noble stung Brad Friedel's fingers with a rasping drive from just outside the box, and then as the game eased into injury time and it seemed that the game was slipping away into a draw, the Hammers came up with the winner.

Almost for the first time in the match, Scott Parker stole into the penalty area, before pulling the ball back towards Zavon Hines. The youngster had plenty to do with three Villa defenders around him, but the ball fell kindly, he jinked himself a yard of space and then buried his shot into the far corner.

It was a very different Gianfranco Zola from the distraught one at Sunderland that greeted the press after this dramatic victory.

"Zavon Hines has already shown us what he can do," said the Italian. "He has played against Liverpool and done brilliantly, and he did the same today.

"He has shown a lot of character and personality. Sometimes the youngsters can feel the pressure, but I don't think it is the case with Zavon.

"He kept his composure, he was in the middle of three defenders and he finished brilliantly - the boy deserves the spotlight."

Hines was only on the field because of the disastrous first half that West Ham were forced to go through.

They had started brightly enough with Carlton Cole being denied by a last-ditch tackle by Richard Dunne and Noble forcing a good save from Friedel, but then they lost both Herita Ilunga and then the priceless Cole to injury and the game turned emphatically Villa's way.

"The way we started was perfect," said Zola. "But first we lost Herita and then we lost Carlton, and as you can imagine, considering all that, the atmosphere was a bit flat among the players.

It certainly was. Parker looked rusty on his return, giving the ball away too often, while Valon Behrami looked short of fitness and the recalled Julien Faubert again looked way short of a Premier League full back.

West Ham had Robert Green to thank for keeping them level in that first half as he saved brilliantly from Stilian Petrov on 30 minutes. The ball came out to the Bulgarian as the Hammers cleared from a corner, and his bullet return would have left the goalkeeper unsighted until the last moment, before he tipped it over the bar.

There was more to come from Green, but first West Ham grabbed a surprise lead right on half time.

Hines pace had caused problems for Dunne in the box a few minutes earlier, only for the referee to wave play on, but it was second time lucky for the little striker when he raced into the area again and was felled by a clumsy challenge by Beye.

It was a brave Noble who stepped up to take the penalty having missed his last two spot-kicks, but he sent Friedel the wrong way with a shot that flew into the top corner.

It was a half-time lead that West Ham hardly merited, and it was to last only seven minutes into the second half.

It could have been even less. On 48 minutes, Da Costa rose like a hot air balloon to head clear, only to also land like a hot air balloon, right on top of James Collins.

There seemed little he could have done about the collision, but referee Steve Bennett, who had a disappointing evening, immediately pointed to the spot.

"I think I only saw one penalty to be honest," insisted Zola when he was asked about both spot-kicks.

"The second one I cannot understand, I was watching the video and I still can't understand it. I think no-one could believe their eyes. Everybody was casually walking back.

"It was a great challenge. Da Costa jumped very high and unfortunately found on his way James Collins, but come on; I think it was a little bit too much."

Perhaps justice was done as Ashley Young's kick was brilliantly saved by Green with his left hand, somehow tipping the effort round the post.

But for anyone who thought that this may signal that it was going to be West Ham's night, would have received an alarming reminder of the team's vulnerability just four minutes later, when Young cut inside Behrami on the left hand side and struck an exquisite curling shot over the head of Green and into the far corner.

It was a breathtaking strike and many thought that it would signal a West Ham surrender, but from that point on Villa seemed to tire and the Hammers always looked the more likely to grab all three points, though a draw still seemed the odds-on favourite.

Jack Collison buzzed around the midfield, forcing one save from Friedel, Guillermo Franco fired over the top and then set up Hines for a shot that he dragged wide of the post, before Parker also put in the lively Hines who forced a good stop from Friedel at his near post.

"Honestly I didn't think we were going to do it," confessed Zola. "I believed in the players though and they fought to the very end and they got the reward."

They did. Hines finished with aplomb, the Villa defenders were on their knees and it was if West Ham had won the cup final rather than merely secured their first home win of the season.

"We gave a demonstration of desire and belief and that is really what we wanted. It was a fantastic game to win. We said that the team is beginning to play better, so it could well be the turning point."

Zola and West Ham deserved the breaks in this match, and the win hauled them up to the heady heights of 16th in the Premier League table, but they must now follow it up against Everton on Saturday.

News on the possibility of Ilunga and Cole being fit for the match, seems to be fairly optimistic.

"We don't know what the situation is yet, but they don't look very serious, and we need to assess them for a couple of days" said the manager, who confirmed that both were suffering from hamstring injuries.

The Everton clash will be no easier than this one, and despite the excellence of Hines, West Ham are likely to need Cole and to a lesser extent Ilunga to be able to play their part.

One thing is for sure, fewer people will be leaving the ground with 10 minutes still to go this weekend, although the whereabouts of the missing nine thousand fans for this game was something of a mystery.

They missed a real treat.

Player Ratings

Green 9 Brilliant save from Petrov in the first half, and even better one from Young's penalty. No panicking, no flapping, back to his best.

Faubert 6 Dreadful first half where his distribution was awful, but after the break he did become a little more adventurous and had one or two useful moments.

Ilunga 5 Made one good run into the box, but suffered a hamstring injury as he did so and was replaced after just eight minutes.

Da Costa 7 Surprise call-up, but let nobody down with some good anticipation and positioning. A criminal decision to award a penalty against him.

Upson 7 Had his hands full with Agbonlahor, but after the Villa man had some initial success, the West Ham defender took control and played well.

Behrami 5 Disappointing display by the Swiss international. He did not look 100 per cent fit and that affected his game substantially. Still gave everything, but he was left a little off the pace.

Parker 7 Dreadful first half as he lost the ball time and again, but after the break he was a different man as he drove West Ham on in fine style. Fitting that it was his run into the box that led to the injury time winner.

Noble 7 Some of his set-piece delivery was again poor, but you cannot question his endeavour and heart. Forced two good saves from Friedel and when the pressure was on he stepped up and took his penalty with aplomb.

Collison 7 Seemed to be wearing plimsolls in the first half, so often did he lose his footing, but after a change of footwear in the second half, he came much more into the game and proved a thorn in the side of the Villa midfield.

Franco 7 Again full of clever touches and dummy runs, but his tendency to drop a little deeper was no help after Cole went off and he had to be number one striker. Ran out of steam towards the end.

Cole 6 Showed his class by turning Dunne and sprinting into the box, only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle, but his night ended disastrously chasing another wayward Faubert cross and pulling his hamstring.

Substitutes:

Jonathan Spector (for Ilunga 8, 6) Slightly unfortunate to lose his place to Faubert, nevertheless he battled hard at left back against Ashley Young and later Reo-Coker after coming on early. Still not quite Premier League class.

Zavon Hines (for Cole 30, 8) Never stopped running, and never afraid to shoot, Hines summed up the West Ham cause with his endeavour and exuberance. Missed a couple, but his confidence would have been dealt a huge boost with that late winner.

Luis Jimenez (for Franco 89) Made an immediate impression with a dashing run down the left wing, but then spoiled it all with a dreadful short corner straight to Reo-Coker.

Unused subs: Kurucz, Diamanti, Tomkins, Stanislas.

Attendance: 30, 024. Referee: Steve Bennett (4)

Man of the Match: Robert Green.

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