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ten years in an open neck shirt - West Ham Away Report


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And so another season ends. This one ended in much the same way it's played out - with entertainment, raucous support for the Villans and plenty of togetherness between the players, management and fans.

The trip to fancy London from the North West is a long and expensive one, and the price of the match ticket at 43 quid was another blow to the bank balance, but it turned out to be well worth the expense.

An early start, too early indeed for Bickster, who missed the train, and met up with us later in London. But the journey down was a good one, spent chatting to a Liverpool fan I know, who was going to see his team play at Spurs.

After negotiating the line closures and heat of the tube I arrived blinking and thirsty into the Upton Park air. Failing to meet up with Paulo and Nigel, I had to settle for a couple of cans of swillo in the sun, and a quick chat with some Hammers, before entering the ground. On going through the turnstiles everyone was handed a "Mellberg - Thanks 4 your support" team shirt. A fantastic gesture from a fantastic gentleman. It's rare that players give anything tangible back to supporters in such a direct way, and it showed terrific generosity from a real pro. Olly, thanks for the memories - the header at Old Trafford, the skilled finish at Boro, the tackles, the blocks, the headers, the pace and the consistency. All the best at Juve. We'll miss you, and we'll remember you. And you were right about the Blues, too.

Anyway, the game itself was a belter. Given the number of end of season games that end in 2-2 draws and our shared history of draws with West Ham, I felt the game was likely to end at 2-2, and it did, though during the first half i feared we might lose, and in the second I thought we'd win.

West Ham scored first - a free kick from the edge of the box beautfully taken by Nolberto Solano, still a class player and a real threat all afternoon. Though he got some stick from us lot, he didn't celebrate. Scott Carson didn't get the wall right - I was right behind him, and there's just no way he could have sen the ball until it was over the wall. He nearly saved it, but should have organised the wall better.

It didn't take long for us to equalise. Ashley Young had already hit the post down the far end, and after about quarter of an hour, he was put through by Nigel Reo-Coker and finished very well.

West Ham though were attacking with pace, movement and strength and were getting through our back line a bit too easily at times. Several shots almost went in, and they looked dangerous.

The second half was much better from a Villa perspective. We really went at them from the off and Robert Green had to make a number of saves, Shots were blocked and deflected.

Gareth Barry was outstanding, driving on, playing people in, shooting and controlling. After one surging run down the middle, like a modern day Dennis Mortimer, he passed to NRC, whose shot was beaten out, but only back to the Skipper, who volleyed into the net. Delirium in the away end.

West Ham then came back at us, Ashton hitting the bar from a cross - he looked a danger all through the game.

There were panics in the West Ham area too, one sequence of shots and blocks, ending with their keeper down with a head injury. He was fine though, happily, and the game carried on at great pace, interspersed with the players snatching drinks from the sidelines.

Just before the end, West ham scored a belting goal, a powerful curling first time hit from Ashton giving Scott no chance at all to save. We went down the other and another mad scramble saw the ball cleared off the line, and hit the arm of Ferdinand, too. But the whistle went, and the game was over. Olly was serenaded one last time, relegation for small heath cheered lustily, and we have intertoto football and hopefully UEFA cup football to look forward too next season.

We made it back to Euston quite quickly and were able to scoop down a few quick pints of Fuller's excellent produce with Barnesy, before the train back to the north. Cheers Paulo.

Some thoughts on the season overall, and our Skipper in particular. Like practically all the squad, Gareth has done really well this season. He's arguably been our best player, he's unarguably a gem. I absolutely love watching him play, so it's hardly an unbiased view, but I really think there's an absolutely sound set of logic for him to stay at Villa. Just look where he's gone this season - He's a key part of our side, established as the first name on the team sheet in central midfield. He's playing great football, he's enjoying it. Martin O'Neill's management has brought out the absolute best in him. As a result of his fine performances he's a regular England starter. He's a wealthy man, he can earn plenty more in the years to come. No doubt the notion of playing EuroTelly league games is appealing, and no doubt tales from his mate Gerrard make him envious to an extent. But is moving from Villa to a left back/left sided role, when he's not rotated by Rafa, or whoever takes over from him, really in his best interests? Liverpool look to be in a bit of a crisis with their owners not talking, Rafa and Parry at Loggerheads, a lack of money from signings and for their new ground. How's Gareth's mate Crouchy getting on up there? Liverpool is a fine club, but it doesn't look to me like GB should go there. Our players, with one exception, seem to agree. He's wanted and loved at Villa.

At Villa we have something really going on. A fantastic manager, a brilliant owner, a settled and ambitious Club going undeniably in the right direction. Players will come in, in number and quality this summer. There are of course, no guarantees, but it just looks right at Villa. It looks good for the future. The grass is green.

For the rest of the squad, most of them young and improving things also look good. Martin Laursen has been a giant, Ashley Young a proper entertaining winger, there are goals from everywhere and a tremendous spirit. Pace, Power and guile abound.

I've spent a small fortune travelling up and down the country watching the team this season, and just about every minute of it has been fantastic. Well worth the time and the train delays, the motorways and the car park delays.

Have a good summer, come back safe next season, passports ready, Voices rested.

Thanks to everyone who's made it so good this season, from the ticket office, to the fellow travellers. And whoever "found" my iPod yesterday, in the away end, you better enjoy using it.

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Well that's that then...no more late-night away-report reads from Blandy for me.

Glad there's always next season.

Glad to know you had some beers outside, and again after the match with Paoulo...the Fullers.

Can't wait to read the pre-season schedule to figure out if the Villa are coming over to this side of the pond again. Had great time in Toronto last time.

Cheers, Blandy.

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