West Ham United 2-1 Aston Villa
Andriy Yarmolenko’s superb flick and finish set West Ham United on our way to a 2-1 win over Aston Villa on an emotional afternoon at London Stadium.
The forward, making his first appearance in Claret and Blue since being granted compassionate leave in the midst of the crisis engulfing his home country of Ukraine, came on as a second-half substitute in place of Michail Antonio, and opened the scoring 18 minutes later with a clever strike on the turn.
Pablo Fornals netted West Ham’s second on 82 minutes on the counter-attack, turning home Saïd Benrahma’s pull-back, with a finish which Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez could not keep out.
Jacob Ramsey would pull one back for the away side as the match ticked into added time.
But the afternoon belonged to Yarmolenko, who received a standing ovation upon his introduction to the action and was visibly moved at the rapturous reaction to his vitally important goal, which set the Hammers on our way to a hard-fought win.
The opening exchanges suggested an exciting 90 minutes of back-and-forth football at London Stadium as Łukasz Fabiański was forced to pounce in the penalty box to claim the ball from Danny Ings, before Aaron Creswell nutmegged Matty Cash to set up Saïd Benrahma, who saw his effort held by Emiliano Martínez.
Back in the starting XI for the first time since the home match with Newcastle United, Benrahma looked a bright spark, seeing another effort go wide before Pablo Fornals took on a shot from 25 yards. Again, the effort failed to test the Aston Villa goalkeeper.
Villa were content to retain possession when they had it and look for the killer incision, which they nearly found on 19 minutes as Jacob Ramsey held off a challenge to break into the West Ham area. He turned the ball into Philippe Coutinho, with the Brazilian’s creative effort blocked away by Kurt Zouma.
The best opportunity of the first half was manifested by a Villa error on the half-hour mark. Amid a spell of West Ham pressure, the away side failed to clear, allowing Cresswell to chest down and send in a superb cross. Tomáš Souček was onto the ball, ahead of Calum Chambers, but his header was narrowly wide of the near post.
In truth, neither side had done enough to merit taking the advantage in the first half, cancelling each other in a finely balanced fixture.
Seven minutes into the second half, Moyes was forced into a change as Antonio was unable to continue. The supporters in attendance at London Stadium collectively took to their feet to welcome Yarmolenko back to action with a standing ovation.
Villa went close to taking the lead moments later as a low corner found Ings. The striker’s contact was not clean but there was enough on it to trouble Fabiański, who tipped the strike onto the woodwork before claiming on the second attempt.
The Irons’ centre-back pairing went close on the hour as Kurt Zouma’s header, from a corner, was somehow saved, before Craig Dawson turned his follow-up over the bar.
The moment of the afternoon came on 70 minutes as Benrahma, amid a stint of sustained pressure, cut inside on the left before firing a ball into Yarmolenko just inside the penalty box. Our No7’s first touch was precise, as was the swivel and strike that beat Martinez and sent elated roars around London Stadium.
The emotion of the moment could be felt throughout the ground as both sets of supporters applauded the 32-year-old, who showed his appreciation for the love and compassion shown to both him and his homeland from the West Ham family.
Yarmolenko looked for a second with a right-footed strike minutes later, which found the side netting, but the Irons would not be denied another as Villa were caught on the counter.
Captain Declan Rice drove into space, picking out Benrahma. The creative Algerian spotted Fornals’ late run into the penalty area and the No8 made no mistake, squeezing his shot past Martínez.
A seemingly comfortable win suddenly felt nervous on 90 minutes when Ramsey belted home for Villa, halving West Ham’s lead.
But the afternoon belonged to Moyes’ men, and the eruption at the final whistle signalled the pride and support for the effort, the points, for Andriy Yarmolenko and for Ukraine.
West Ham United: Fabiański, Johnson, Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell (Fredericks 57), Rice (c), Souček, Fornals, Lanzini, Benrahma (Diop 87), Antonio (Yarmolenko 52)
Subs: Areola, Král, Masuaku, Noble, Okoflex, Perkins
Aston Villa: Martínez, Cash, Chambers, Mings (c), Digne (Young 10), Douglas Luiz (Buendía 79), McGinn, Ramsey, Coutinho, Watkins, Ings (Bailey 69)
Subs: Olsen (GK), Konsa, Sanson, Chukwuemeka, Iroegbunam, Traoré
Referee: Jarred Gillett