Villa beat West Ham while Dave Woodhall watches and remembers.
If you’re a regular at away games, or if you’ve been going down the match for a few years, you’ll have likely recognised Dave Hodges, whose death this week was met with sadness throughout the Villa-supporting community. Dave was an incredibly devoted supporter who went decades without missing a game. Whether at home or a pre-season friendly in some far-flung part of the world, he was there. He was also an extremely shy and modest man who would have been stunned at the outpouring of affection news of his passing has inspired. Those of us lucky enough to be his friends would have given anything to have had him with us on Sunday. He would have loved what he saw as much as we did.
This was always going to be a test. To give him his due, David Moyes has turned West Ham into a match for any opposition and a team who will be challenging for Europe this season. Added to their run of good form against us for far too long, it seemed as though a difficult afternoon was in store.
Unai Emery opted for a standard 4-4-2 with Nicolo Zaniolo starting after his eventful week and Moussa Diaby up front with Ollie Watkins. It’s been a year since Steven Gerrard was sacked and the beginning of his particular end was an unedifying defeat at home to West Ham last August. Twelve months on Villa are a different team, as the visitors soon found out when Douglas Luiz had a shot well saved in the early stages, then after half an hour Zaniolo and Ollie Watkins combined to give him another opportunity and this time the keeper couldn’t do anything about it.
There were chances but no more goals in the first half but five minutes after the break Ezri Konsa, a player transformed this season, was brought down in the box and Luiz took the penalty to double Villa’s lead. Without wishing to hark back too much to our previous manager, our Brazilian maestro got three league goals during Gerrard’s reign of terrors. He’s now scored in six consecutive games; if there’s a better player in his position anywhere in the country, let me know who it is – and the same goes for Konsa.
West Ham managed to get a goal they scarcely deserved thanks to a fortuitous deflection but no matter; sixteen minutes to go and Watkins ran onto John McGinn’s long ball and smashed it into the back of the net with supreme confidence. Then in the last minute of normal time we saw the strength in depth Villa are starting to build when two substitutes made and scored the fourth. Youri Tielemans split the West Ham defence with an inch-perfect ball and Leon Bailey turned his marker inside out before firing home.
A few weeks ago you could have looked at Villa’s upcoming home fixtures against Brighton and West Ham, and said they would give a good indication of where the team are. Two games, ten goals and six points later, we know the answer. As I keep saying, where we’ll be in another twelve months is another question entirely.
One place we will be is Alkmaar on Thursday. From a club who were our bogey side to a country where we haven’t got a bad record in European competitions; Dave Hodges would have loved it all.