1. Support for Yarma
Where else could we start but by focusing on a moment that transcended West Ham United - and indeed transcended football?
Andriy Yarmolenko’s entry as a second-half substitute for the injured Michail Antonio was met with applause from all around London Stadium, including the travelling Aston Villa supporters, with everyone present recognising what the forward has gone through since his country, Ukraine, was invaded by Russian forces on 24 February.
In the past fortnight, not only has the No7 been granted compassionate leave to try to somehow come to terms with the crisis engulfing Ukraine, but he has also travelled to Poland to bring his wife and one of his children, who had fled their homeland, back to England. At the same time, he still has extended family members in his home city of Chernihiv, which has reportedly fallen under enemy control.
And so, when the 32-year-old found the net with an exquisite left-foot shot to give West Ham the lead with 20 minutes to play, the outpouring of emotion from a tearful Yarmolenko himself, and the support from his teammates and fans alike, could not fail to have moved anyone present, or anybody watching on television around the world.
It goes without saying that Yarma, as he is affectionately known, has the unconditional and unwavering support of everyone at West Ham United.
2. Daws’s diags
When Craig Dawson launched his first long and accurate diagonal cross-field pass raking across the London Stadium pitch, the Claret and Blue Army applauded appreciatively, perhaps slightly surprised to see the centre-back spraying the ball 40 or 50 yards out to the left flank.
But when Daws did it again, and again, and again, it became clear that he was not just showing off his passing range, but because it was a deliberate tactic to expose space in behind Aston Villa’s right-back Matty Cash. The tactic worked, with Saïd Benrahma, supported first by Aaron Cresswell and later Ben Johnson, taking advantage of that space to tame the Lions.
It was from one arrow of a pass from Dawson that West Ham United took the lead. Benrahma controlled instantly and Johnson’s overlapping run created space for the Algerian to cut inside, which he did before finding Andriy Yarmolenko inside the penalty area.
The Ukraine forward controlled, turned and finished in one motion and within seconds of leaving Dawson’s right boot, the ball was in the back of the Aston Villa net.
3. Saïd supplies
Benrahma earned praise from manager David Moyes after registering his first Premier League assists since New Year’s Day in Sunday’s win.
The Algerian winger showed signs of being back to somewhere near his best in the first half, when he combined repeatedly with Aaron Cresswell down our left flank.
While he may not have always used the ball to Moyes’ satisfaction, Benrahma was always eager to receive it and try to make something happen for his team, as his four shots, two key passes and 59 touches illustrated.
Benrahma’s willingness to keep going was rewarded in the final quarter of the game, when his availability and quality led to two vital goals.
The first arrived when he collected Dawson’s cross-field pass before cutting inside and finding Yarmolenko, who controlled, turned and scored an emotional opening goal.
The second, 12 minutes later, saw him race forward alongside Declan Rice before looking up and finding Pablo Fornals to finish first time past Emiliano Martínez.
While it was Yarmolenko’s strike that rightly dominated the headlines following Sunday’s victory, it would not have been the game’s opening goal had it not been for a wonder-save from Łukasz Fabiański 15 minutes earlier.
Aston Villa had offered precious little as an attacking force in the first half, but that changed ten minutes after half-time when Danny Ings latched onto a loose ball following a corner and sent a low shot towards the bottom left-hand corner.
It looked like a goal for all money before the former Poland international flung himself full-length to tip the ball onto the base of the post, before it bounced back into his grateful arms.
It was one of five saves made by the Fabiański overall, with the No1 reminding everyone yet again of his undoubted shot-stopping quality.