Harry Redknapp, manager of the London side, made the more contented noises afterwards. "There aren't many tougher places to come to than this," he said. But even he had to admit that it might have been an opportunity lost. "The best chances came to us," he added. Or, more specifically, to John Hartson and Paul Kitson, the two strikers on whom Redknapp is pinning all his hopes of survival.
With these two back in harness after Hartson's latest suspension, West Ham began with as much confidence as they could drum up, given their circumstances, bolstered by Kitson's stoppage-time winner against Chelsea last week.
It did not seem misplaced. Hartson's first pass to his fellow striker required Gareth Southgate to execute the first of several important tackles. After 35 minutes, a link between Kitson and Stan Lazaridis on the left provided Hartson, in the six-yard box, with what was to be the best opening of the match. This time Mark Bosnich, the goalkeeper, came to Villa's aid with a fine reflex save. Ten minutes into the second half, Bosnich sprang to the rescue a second time after Kitson, starting his run from a deep position, opened up Villa by way of a one-two with Hartson.
Villa, without the injured Savo Milosevic and now with only one goal in four matches, seemed to have only one weapon - the pace of Dwight Yorke and Julian Joachim on the counter-attack. But West Ham were seldom troubled .
"I think we can [avoid relegation]," Redknapp said, happy that other results had favoured his side. They will have to do it, however, be without the young Frank Lampard, who was carried off with a suspected broken leg in the first half.