Thursday, November 5

Zav it!

West Ham 2 Aston Villa 1

Chaos on the District line as usual. The tube stops at every station for five minutes due to “congestion”, so it’s a rushed cup of tea in Ken’s Café where a disconsolate Gav is waiting for DC, who’s got his ticket. No doubt they’ll be in for half-time. Even Mystic Morris misses the first 15 minutes, although Fraser and Matt are in situ for Bubbles time.

Zola and Clarke have made brave changes after Sunderland, dropping Spector and Tomkins for Faubert and Da Costa. There’s a nice reception for James Collins from the 32,000 Upton Park faithful, and much booing of Villa's sub Nigel Mediocre.

We start the game with plenty of desire, driving into Villa’s box. Noble has a stinging shot well saved well by Friedel. But after seven minutes Ilunga pulls up and is substituted by Spector, who’ll be playing on his weaker left side again.

Villa come back into the game. Young lashes in several vicious crosses and corners. Carew turns Da Costa too easily to get in a shot at Green. The ball drops to Petrov on the edge of the box and sumptuous volley is expertly tipped over by England’s Number One. The Vila fans serenade us with cries of “Shitty fans My Lord” to the tune of Cumba Ya My Lord.

Then on 31 minutes our sodding injury jinx continues as Carlton Cole pulls up with a hamstring strain. “That’s the end of our season…” suggests Mystic Morris.

Cole is replaced by Hines. We just want to reach half-time with a clean sheet, when the unthinkable happens in added time. Parker plays the speedy Hines through in the box and Zavon’s nudged in the back by Beye. Penalty! Not every ref would have given it, but there was contact. But no Diamanti on the pitch to take it. Braveheart Mark Noble steps up, despite recent failures, and fires into the roof of the net.

We hold out for half-time and start to fantasise about 15th place while debating who are the two most expensive English players not to have a cap (Nigel Reo-Coker and Curtis Davies apparently). Nigel Mediocre is on for the second half and is taunted by the Bobby Moore Stand. “If he scores he’ll make Adebayor look restrained,” suggests Nigel.

Villa win a soft penalty early in the second half. Nobody even seems to appeal for it. Da Costa makes a great leap to head clear but his knee accidentally catches Collins’s head. But Green excels again by saving Young’s badly-placed penalty.

Could this be the luck we need to get our home win? We’re starting to dream, which is always dangerous. In the 51st minute Young crosses from the left, except it turns into a fantastic goal, dipping wildly over Green, completely unlike Paul Konchesky’s intentional wonder strike in the 2006 FA Cup Final. Bugger. We’ve held our lead for six minutes.

Villa will surely go on to win it. Although Mystic May predicts a 2-1 home win when quizzed by Nigel.

And indeed, something extraordinary happens in the final half hour. We start to play with real spirit. Da Costa is much improved at the back, Parker is man of the match, winning countless balls, Franco is dropping deep to chip forward balls for Hines and Spector, yes Spector, is rampaging down the left flank.

Hines is terrifying the Villa defence, forcing mistakes through sheer exuberance and hard running. He shoots just wide after some typical harrying and then fizzes a shot across the face of the goal.

“Always said we should get rid of that donkey Cole,” I quip.

Faubert has a cross deflected agonisingly wide of the post by Ginger Collins. Noble, looking much more like the rampaging local hero of two seasons ago, forces another fine save from Friedel with three minutes left.

Spector is hauled down by Beye late on and it’s a second booking and a red card. For any other team this would be an advantage, but we’re always rubbish against ten men.

We move into four minutes of stoppage time. Jiminez comes on with regulation Hammers midfielder blonde tints, does well to win a corner and then takes a rubbish dead ball Villa win two corners Surely they won’t snatch a late winner?

You wonder if we should be holding the ball up, but Parker comes forward for one final surge, plays the ball into Hines who is surrounded by three defenders, but somehow he jinks inside Collins and Dunne, shuffles the ball from his left to right foot and has the composure to lift the ball over Friedel and into the net.

GOOOOOOOAAAL! Zavon and Faubert run for the corner flag and Upton Park celebrates as if we’ve just won the X-Factor and can finally pay Curbs and Sheffield United their money.

Hands are shaken and backs patted in the East Stand. Zola is jumping in the air. That’s the break we needed. A fantastic finish from Zavon that Zola himself would have been proud of. Small team in Dudley, you’re just a small team in Dudley!

There’s only half a minute left. Green gathers and it’s over. A delighted Zola runs on the pitch to hug Hinesy. Nigel gazes mistily at he league table calculating goal differences. We go above Wolverhampton Wanderers! We go above Blackburn Rovers!

We retreat to the Black Lion where a fine evening is rounded off by the guest ale being Maldon Gold from Essex. If only Gav was here and not in the Central he’d be in real ale dreamland. We watch the Sky highlights and still worry that Noble will miss his penalty and Villa will score late on.

And then the barmaid arrives with my season ticket, which I must have dropped on the floor buying a round (always dangerous to open your wallet in my opinion, but we had won).

“Tough luck mate! I’ve been trying to lose mine for years!” quips the fan at the next table. In the week that Matt has visited the Vatican asking the Pope about the doctrine of West Ham’s lack of infallibility, perhaps this is a sign. Don’t give up on the Irons and Zola’s immaculate conceptions. Many are called but few are chosen for the East Stand. Keep the faith and the righteous will be rewarded by our new Zaviour.


steve said...

Just watched the finale again, and got teary eyed again. It felt like we'd just own the cup or something, not merely our first home win of the season. Was it more special because it was Zav who won it for us? It was for me! Come on you Irons!!!

- North Bank Norman

Wes said...

Nice write-up.