Barclays Premier League
Aston Villa 1-0 West Ham United
The wait for a first away Barclays Premier League win of 2015 goes on, as West Ham United succumbed to a 1-0 defeat by relegation-threatened Aston Villa on Saturday.
FA Cup finalists Villa bossed proceedings prior to the interval and broke the deadlock after half an hour when Tom Cleverley profited from Jack Grealish's low cross.
The Hammers were vastly improved after the break, with Nene, in particular, giving the visitors some much-needed impetus going forward. The Brazilian himself flashed one over the top from distance, while Enner Valencia had a headed effort chalked off for offside.
With Sunderland’s win at Everton in the early kick-off dragging Villa to within a point of the bottom three, it was the hosts who made all the early running here.
Leandro Bacuna was the first to take aim, fizzing a 25-yard free-kick narrowly over Adrian’s crossbar.
Then, a corner from the left resulted in pin ball in the West Ham box, allowing Jose Okore to tee up Charles N’Zgobia, who slammed his effort into Kevin Nolan.
Still inside quarter-of-an-hour, Fabien Delph picked out Cleverley at the far post, whose excellent first-time volley was palmed away by Adrian.
The clearest chance, however, fell to the in-form Christian Benteke. Latching onto an Okore flick from a Delph free-kick, the Belgian was unable to make sufficient contact to steer inside the near post.
Villa were fluent and neat in possession around the box, particularly the young Jack Grealish and he was the architect of the opener. The 19-year-old burst past Stewart Downing to the by-line and drove across goal for Cleverley to prod into the empty net. It had been coming.
An on-running dispute between Morgan Amalfitano and Cleverley made the former pantomime villain for the afternoon, though Downing too was treated to a hostile reception against his former employers.
After a lacklustre first 45, Sam Allardyce shuffled his pack at the break, with Nene and Alex Song replacing Nolan and Amalfitano. It meant the Hammers reverted to the diamond formation that served them so well prior to Christmas.
And it so nearly worked. Downing squared to Nene, who needed no second invitation to let fly, flashing a vicious effort goalward. Shay Given had no chance but it cleared the crossbar as well.
At the other end, N’Zogbia slalomed his way into the box and then lashed an effort into the side netting.
As the hour-mark approached, James Collins rose above Ron Vlaar to meet a Mark Noble corner, but Given was on hand to comfortably tip it over the top. Then Nene ducked inside onto his left foot but his ambitious curler sailed behind.
West Ham did at least get the ball in the Villa net, but Valencia was flagged offside as he nodded Nene’s centre into the left-hand corner.
Big Sam threw on Carlton Cole for the final 12 minutes, but West Ham carved out very little of note in the closing minutes.
In fact, Villa came closer to extending their lead, not once, but twice. Ashley Westwood's daisy cutter drifted past Adrian's right-hand upright, before Gabriel Agbonlahor skewed wide with only the 'keeper to beat.
Aston Villa: Given, Vlaar, Okore, Bacuna (Hutton 78), Cleverley, Westwood, Delph, Richardson, Benteke, N'Zogbia, (Agbonlahor 71), Grealish (Sanchez 90)
Subs: Guzan, Weimann, Cole, Senderos
Goal: Cleverley 31
West Ham United: Adrian, Cresswell, Nolan (Song 46), Kouyate, Downing, Noble (Cole 78), Jenkinson, Collins, Amalfitano (Nene 46), Valencia, Burke
Subs: Jaaskelainen, O'Brien, Cullen, Cole, Jarvis
Referee: Lee Mason