Villa deny unlucky Hammers

An unfortunate own goal 12 minutes from time was enough to give Aston Villa the win in east London on Saturday evening.

James Milner's cross deflected off Lucas Neill and dipped into the top corner of the net, giving goalkeeper Robert Green absolutely no chance. It was hard on United as they had shown plenty of attacking promise before the strike.

Although James Collins returned to training this week from his calf injury, he was not fit enough for the game so Gianfranco Zola named the same starting XI that had performed so well in earning a 1-1 draw at Chelsea six days earlier.

The hosts started in confident manner and had the first shot on goal seven minutes in. Mark Noble's through ball sent Craig Bellamy clear but his shot was comfortably saved by Brad Friedel. Two minutes later they nearly took the lead again with a set-piece taken straight from Chadwell Heath. Noble's deep cross saw Calum Davenport cushion a header back across to Neill who volleyed left-footed straight at Friedel.

And the American - later named man-of-the-match - made it three saves in the first 15 minutes as Matthew Upson's ball over the top put Bellamy in space on the left. A burst of speed saw him to the edge of the six-yard-box and, despite the tight angle, he placed a shot across goal which the Villa No1 did well to block.

The visitors came back into it and Steve Sidwell fired wide after a short free-kick from the edge of the area. Then Gabriel Agbonlahor showed why he has made such an impact on the Premier League this season, using his electric pace to get away from Neill. His cut-back was too far behind Ashley Young but just as Sidwell was about to shoot, Noble did just enough to force him to fire wide.

The Midlanders then hit the Hammers' woodwork after a misplaced backpass by Scott Parker set Ashley Young free in the area. Green came out quickly and forced the England international wide but he still managed to get a shot in which clipped the far post before rolling behind for a goal kick.

In a frantic finale to a frenetic first half, Behrami stung Friedel's hands from 25 yards and then seconds later at the other it was his opposite number who was impressing as he saved first from Milner and then Gareth Barry as Villa broke dangerously. The 31,441 inside the Boleyn Ground had been treated to an entertaining opening 45 minutes with plenty of goalmouth action.

Zola made a change in personnel at the break by bringing on Hayden Mullins for Parker. Within 40 seconds of the re-start the tireless Bellamy had tested Friedel again. The Welshman had been involved in everything the hosts had done going forward.

On 57 minutes United made another change as Lee Bowyer came on for Valon Behrami, who was limping slightly as he left the field. Spanish right-back Carlos Cuellar left the field a minute later to be replaced by former Hammer Nigel Reo-Coker.

Reo-Coker barely had time to take his position as a left-footed cross from Neill was headed over from close range by Carlton Cole. It was the same scenario moments later as Villa's keeper kept the scores level again by smothering Cole's close-range effort from Bellamy's low cross.

Mark Halsey got his cards out for the first time to caution the Hammers captain for a foul with 24 minutes remaining and Milner followed him into Halsey's notebook six minutes later for a foul on Ilunga. Davenport then had to be alert to make a crucial tackle on as Ashley Young was poised to shoot as the action hotted up again.

The breakthrough finally arrived in the 78th minute as Villa took the lead in hugely fortunate fashion. Milner cut outside Neill and attempted a cross that clipped the defender and looped over the stranded Green. Bellamy was then cautioned for dissent and will miss the visit of Stoke City on Sunday week.

Diego Tristan was sent on for Collison with six minutes to go, while Davenport was ordered up front as the home side threw everything at Villa, but the ball would not just break the home side's way in the Villa penalty area.

West Ham had given everything and were hugely unlucky to be beaten, a fact recognised by the fact that many home supporters remained to applaud United's players off the pitch after the final whistle.

Despite Saturday's setback, West Ham United will be looking to bounce back and continue their excellent away form on Boxing Day when they travel south to Portsmouth.