Aston Villa Reserves 0-0 West Ham United Reserves
Marek Stech enjoyed the best performance of his West Ham United career to earn the Hammers a hard-fought goalless Barclays Premier Reserve League South draw at Aston Villa on Tuesday evening.
The Czech Republic Under-19 international goalkeeper, named in Gianfranco Zola's Premier League matchday squad for the first time at Newcastle United on Saturday, produced a series of stunning saves to keep the Villans at bay. The youngster, who turns 19 on 28 January, was equal to everything the home side threw at him at Hinckley United's neat Marston's Stadium.
United manager Alex Dyer named an experienced side containing four full internationals in Kieron Dyer, Diego Tristan, Jonathan Spector and Walter Lopez against a youthful Villa lineup. Under-19 internationals Stech, Jordan Spence and Freddie Sears were also involved from the start, while Josh Payne was back in central midfield following his successful loan spell at League One outfit Cheltenham Town.
Table-toppers Villa were the better side for long periods, with Scotland Under-21 International Barry Bannan pulling the strings in central midfield. Accordingly, it was the 19-year-old Glaswegian who had the game's first clear chance on four minutes, forcing Stech into an acrobatic save with a rising shot from 20 yards. The talented playmaker was also heavily involved in a 16th-minute move that ended with Dominik Hofbauer shooting straight at the Czech goalkeeper.
At the other end, Tristan came close to giving the visitors the lead on three occasions before the break. First, on ten minutes, the Spaniard ended a lightning quick counterattack involving Stech, Tony Stokes and Dyer by forcing Taylor to scramble behind his fiercely hit long-range strike. Then, a minute either side of Hofbauer's chance, the 32-year-old flicked Lopez's right-wing corner narrowly over at the near post and forced Taylor into another smart stop from distance.
The hosts, whose neat interplay in and around the Hammers penalty area caught the eye, thought they had taken the lead on 22 minutes. Sam Williams buried the loose ball after Stech had superbly pushed aside Tobias Mikaelsson's rasping shot, only to be denied by the assistant referee's offside flag. Villa went close twice more before the break, with the lively Marc Albrighton floating a speculative chip over the crossbar before Stech again did well to hold on to Andreas Weimann's low shot.
Dyer made a change in both personnel and shape at half-time, replacing Uruguayan wing-back Lopez with striker Jack Jeffrey and reverting to a 4-3-3 formation. The alterations nearly paid dividends four minutes into the second period when Stokes was teed up by Tristan, but Taylor was equal to his well-struck shot from just outside the penalty area.
Stech produced another superb save on 53 minutes, diving full-length to tip Albrighton's deflected shot around the post as Villa upped the pressure again. The hosts came close again 20 minutes later, but the goalkeeper was out smartly to deny Hofbauer.
England attacker Dyer, who continued his comeback after 16 months out with a broken leg with a lively showing, was replaced by Holmar Eyjolfsson with 15 minutes remaining, while Stokes also made way for Tom Harvey. But the changes failed to halt Villa's charge. Thankfully, Stech continued to produce outstanding save after outstanding save to deny the home side victory.
The Czech Republic Under-19 international had to be at his very best 14 minutes from time, keeping Villa at bay twice in the space of less than 30 seconds, tipping Williams' powerful header over before gratefully clutching Shane Lowry's powerful effort to his chest. Tomkins then produced a fine last-ditch block to deny Weimann.
The evening ended on a sour note for the Hammers as Payne was carried off on a stretcher with a leg injury late on, forcing United to play out the final eight minutes with just ten men.
West Ham United: Stech, Spence, 'Gala, Tomkins, Lopez (Jeffery 46), Dyer (Eyjolfsson 75), Spector, Stokes (Harvey 75), Payne, Sears, Tristan
Subs not used: Loveday, O'Neill