Green's day at Villa

West Ham United ensured they made an unbeaten Barclays Premier League start to the new decade after a brave goalless draw at Villa Park.

Robert Green was key to the visitors securing the point, producing a string of fine stops as the Hammers moved up two places to 16th in the table.

For the second game in a row, Frank Nouble was handed the lone striker role in a 4-5-1 formation and he so nearly marked his first league start with a breathtaking goal after just five minutes. In a forty-yard run, he outsprinted former team-mate James Collins before beating Richard Dunne but, sadly, could not apply the finish the move deserved as he smashed his shot over the crossbar under pressure from Stiliyan Petrov

Radosalv Kovac was shown an early yellow card by referee Mike Jones for a tackle on Emile Heskey, although he appeared to win the ball. The Czech midfielder felt the force of James Milner's effort from the resulting free-kick as it struck him flush in the face. After a quick shake of the head the 30-year-old was soon back on his feet.

Ashley Young had scored a spectacular goal in the side's first meeting earlier in the season and he came close to repeating the trick again in the 27th minute, but this time, however, Green was able to push his effort away from goal to safety.

The England man then made his second great save within a minute as showed lightening reflexes to acrobatically push away Gabriel Agbonlahor's shot from ten yards out.

Villa were turning the heat up and Green was forced to again show his full range of goalkeeping skills by confidently claiming a dangerous Stephen Warnock centre two minutes later.

The hosts continued to apply the pressure after coming out of the traps strongly in the second half and Milner's rasping drive was just inches wide of Green's left-hand post.

The Hammers had looked threatening on the break and they had a great chance to take the lead in the 53rd minute from a counter-attack, but Valon Behrami's cut back was just behind Kovac.

Cuellar blazed another good opening over the bar before both managers opted for a change apiece. For the visitors, Alessandro Diamanti replaced Scott Parker and the hosts swapped Heskey for Carew.

The Villa substitute thought he had given his side the lead with virtually his first touch just past the hour mark when he prodded home a rebound, only for the celebrations among the majority of 35,646 people present - who had impeccably observed a minute's silence in respect of those killed in the attack on the Togo team coach before the game - to be instantly muted by the referee assistant's flag for offside.

Kovac escaped with just a talking to from Jones for another late tackle before Zola replaced him with Junior Stanislas.

Nouble was certainly enjoying his chance to shine and was a constant thorn in the side of the home defence. In one attack, he beat Collins for pace and skill once more before forcing Brad Friedel into a low save at his near post.

Collins came come close to marking his second game against his former club with an unwelcome own goal, but his sliced clearance from Stanislas' centre went just over.

Villa's corner count was mounting but Green was not really being tested, although he had James Tomkins to thank for a brave block from Petrov's shot. Soon after, Jack Collison was carded for pull on the Bulgarian.

Green ensured he picked up a clean sheet as an early present ahead of his 30th birthday on Monday by the best save of the lot in the dying minutes, when the threw himself at the feet of Agbonlahor.

West Ham tried to force a winner but could not fashion a chance of note, with only yellow cards for Stanislas and Carlos Cuellar following an altercation worth noting.

The Hammers have a free weekend in seven days' time before the crucial trip to Portsmouth the following Tuesday, where more dogged defending will be very much appreciated.