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John
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These two dropped points may cost us a great deal when the points are added together in early May. Struggling West Ham have taken four points from us this season and must be wishing they could play us every week as those 4 points may well keep them up as might dropping 5 points against them keep us outside of the top 4!

This game was sandwiched between a two legged cup semi final that could see us at the new Wembley for the first time next month and so it was always likely that our players might have one eye on the midweek second leg. But this was also a game that if we had won it would have taken us level with Spurs and Manchester City who did and now still do occupy fourth and fifth place in the league as we remain in sixth two points behind them both. We really cannot afford to drop points in games such as this and still hold top 4 ambitions and we need to take advantage on weekends when they do drop points. We also cannot afford to have our minds focused too much on Wembley to the detriment of other competitions as a final appearance is worth little unless a club wins as we ourselves proved in 2000 and there can be no real guarantee of success at the end of next month against either Manchester club.

We now have a stronger squad than we had last year and are therefore in a better position to battle on three fronts although squad rotation is something that Martin will be reluctant to use too liberally given past reactions to this. Our target should not be a cup rather than top 4 but top 4 and two cups. Although this was our second game in three days given it was also only the second game most of our team will have had this year tiredness should not really have come into play and this must be seen as it was which was simply a below par performance.

West Ham were a well drilled, hard working side that closed us down at every opportunity. Their defence stood firm and they do have a couple of decent players at the back and in the middle. They also seemed to want the point more than we wanted the three and at times although offering little up front looked as likely as we did to break the deadlock. We really needed to follow our two cup wins with a league win to exorcise the two late 2009 league defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool from our player’s minds. But, we seemed short of ideas when it came to breaking them down and those opportunities we did create were spurned for the lack of a cutting edge. We are now goalless in our last three league games and our league challenge is therefore under an increasingly serious threat. We had the lion’s share of the possession today but failed to turn that into goals in the same way as we only had one goal to show at Blackburn from a game we dominated for long periods. Today we also had 16 corners but failed to threaten from the dead ball which has been in the past one of our main threats. So is this to prove a one off or does it herald the prospect of a potential slump in the league? Do our players really have the belief that they can end the season in the top 4 or is it the cup or cups they see as their most likely road to success?

For me, now is the time to strengthen from what is a position of strength. The club needs to make wise investment at a time when the introduction of a top striker could give us the impetus to carry on for the next four months fighting on three fronts. Such players do not come cheap but they do turn draws into wins and Randy has not been slow to show his faith in Martin with money in the past and with three goals in our sights I cannot see him breaking that habit now. The rewards are within our reach and we need to hit the last 4 months of this season running. A win in midweek and for me a signing or two would increase our prospects of making this a real season to remember.

My player ratings from a game that has left us temporarily too close for comfort to mid-table Liverpool and a club from the other side of the city whose name I cannot bring myself to mention are:

Brad Freidel – 6 – Seldom worked by West Ham today.

Carlos Cuellar – 7 – Solid defensively but Carlos is once again playing out of position this time through it would appear managerial choice rather than as cover for injury. Carlos fails to offer us the same link that Young does with our forward players and might feel he has done nothing to cause him to be pushed out wide in much the same way as Young would feel he is worth a start. But it would be hard to keep three fit central defenders happy without upsetting someone.

Richard Dunne – 7 – The best of our central defenders today and his will to keep a clean sheet demands the same from the defence as a whole.

James Collins – 6 – Solid enough at the back and got his head to three of our many corners but failed to trouble their keeper. Not quite at his best against his old team today but James did hit a ball that dropped to him on the edge of the box on the volley just a couple of feet wide on 57 minutes.

Stephen Warnock - 7 – Solid at the back and made some good contributions when we moved forward.

Stewart Downing – 7 – MOTM - Hit a good shot on the hour that Green was unable to hold after a good run that led to the ball winding up in their net for the only time. Good runs and work level throughout.

James Milner – 7 – Fed by Heskey and his shot from the edge of the box on 49 minutes went just wide. Another solid performance as we have come to expect.

Stiliyan Petrov - 6 – Hit a coupe of good forward balls and kept the midfield solid enough for much of the time.

Ashley Young – 7 – Hit a cheeky chip on 26 minutes that Green had to stretch to keep out. Ash is getting increasingly nearer to his best with each of his recent performances.

Emile Heskey – 6 – Replaced by Big John on 57 minutes and had worked pretty well up until then. I would find it surprising that Emile would have started this one if he is to be selected for the semi final second leg in midweek as there is some doubt that he has three games in a week in him as of now.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 5 – Had four opportunities to score and will be disappointed not to have put one of them away and to now be goalless from his last 5 games. Hit a good shot on the turn on 26 minutes that forced a save from Green but might have done better on 63 minutes when he fired a shot over the bar after Downing had found him inside the box after a good run. He was then presented with the ball on the edge of the box after Carew had dispossessed Green on 73 minutes but lacked the confidence to hit the ball first time on the run with Green in no man’s land and so the goal scoring opportunity was lost. Then on 91 minutes he had the golden opportunity to give us a late winner when Carew nodded the ball onto him and he raced past the last defender but instead of hitting the ball first time with the keeper to beat he took a desperately heavy touch that gave the keeper the opportunity to smother the ball. I can accept that he got into the positions to score but having done so an international striker would be expected to hit the net a minimum of once from four opportunities like these and so to win the game. Gabby cannot afford another lean run at this stage of the season with a World Cup place to play for at international level and with trophies and a top 4 spot to play for at club level.

Substitutes:

John Carew – 6 - Replaced Emile on 57 minutes and bundled the ball over the line on the hour when Green was only able to parry Downing’s shot but the goal was ruled out as he had strayed offside.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Thanks, John. Excellent report as usual and I agree totally with your views on the need to get that quality striker in now...if only one was available! MON has sorted the defence and midfield - it is just the strikers that are not good enough.

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Cant agree with some of the ratings - Ashley was terrible for most of the game - had loads of crosses without picking anyone out.

The worst mark for me though was for Stan - not his biggest fan but thought he was excellent yesterday compared to his usual performances. He is still not able to deliver a killer pass though.

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Ashley Young - diamond geezer, works his socks off, tears his marker(s) a new one, crosses too far, ball goes past the far post. Time and again. At least when his putting in inswingers from the left.

Just now and then, sometimes twice in a match, sometimes once in two matches, gets it right and we get a goal. Similarly with free kicks and corners. Does he practise crossing? Such a shame. The likes of Gabby and Carew can do little with this kind of service.

I agree with the 7 for Cuéllar. He did what he had to do, defended well, worked like a Trojan, kept making himself available when we moved up, but I'm afraid I also agree with John and his comparison with Luke Young. Cuéllar over Luke Young was a good choice as a one-off for the Blackburn match. Now let's have Luke back please.

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I think the striker can be found if as a club we are prepared to make the investment Fantram and I hope we are.

I actually do rate Stan Ferris. I think he is there to be more of a holding player than a creative one but he did put a couple of decent balls forward for me on Sunday. I also think Sled has hit the nail on the head with Ash and I trust he will be taking your tip and doing some work on improving the quality of his crosses and dead balls Sled as when he gets these right he is deadly.

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I thought the game posed more questions than answers.

wasn't sure why Milner spent most of his time on the flanks when I thought he was supposed be centre midfield.

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