Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 0: Carew hammers home true scale of Curbishley's task

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The Independent Football

"Fortune's always hiding, I've looked everywhere ...'' As lines in club songs go that one is pretty accurate right now in the case of West Ham United.

Having lost a clutch of defenders in recent weeks the Londoners then saw their most recent transfer Matthew Upson limp away from Villa Park after half an hour. For a team now entrenched in a relegation fight the timing could not have been worse.

The former Arsenal centre-half who signed from Birmingham City for £6m on deadline day last Wednesday injured a calf muscle and joins a list of absentees in claret-and-blue that comprises Lucas Neill, Anton Ferdinand, James Collins and Danny Gabbidon. As the West Ham manager Alan Curbishley put it: "It's virtually a back four.''

Relations are not too warm between Roy Carroll and Jonathan Spector either as the goalkeeper Carroll ran out of his penalty area to remonstrate with the American full-back after more defensive uncertainty. These are not happy times for the Hammers' back-line.

Upson will be out for around three weeks and so will miss the game with Watford this weekend which Curbishley described as "must win'' but it must also be a concern where the goals will come from.

Here West Ham started with a new Spanish signing, Kepa Blanco, and Bobby Zamora in attack and the pair laboured on throughout the most unproductive 60 minutes almost any West Ham forward partnership can have displayed even in this season of underachievement.

Neither had a shot on goal and the visitors' only efforts of note were all concentrated in the last two minutes when a combination of Thomas Sorensen, Wilfred Bouma and the crossbar denied the visitors what would have been an undeserved equaliser.

"We've let too many goals in and not scored enough," said Curbishley. "We need to keep a couple of clean sheets and then we've got a chance but most weeks we need to score two to keep something."

The Hammers' midfield did not do its job here, failing to win the ball back often enough and losing possession too easily. Louis Boa Morte, another January signing, offered neither width nor penetration while Yossi Benayoun on the other flank wandered around to scarcely better effect.

Even if the late efforts by Matt Etherington, Calum Davenport or George McCartney had gleaned a point Curbishley knows that is not enough with a five-point gap between the Hammers and safety.

"If we'd got a point it would have been a confidence boost but we need three points,'' the West Ham manager said. "We've got to beat Watford and I think Charlton after that. Defining games they could be.''

The hosts ensured West Ham's winless away run continued and the only complaint that Martin O'Neill could have was his side's lack of killer instinct after John Carew's goal on his home debut when he ran on to Ashley Young's pass.

It left them vulnerable to the late onslaught they just about survived here but against better sides Carew and Young will have to be more efficient.

What was galling for those visiting West Ham fans, however, was that the last two minutes proved fortune was not hiding and was even dressed in claret-and-blue. It simply had a Birmingham accent, not a Cockney one.

Goal: Carew (36) 1-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Bardsley, Mellberg, Cahill, Bouma; Agbonlahor, Petrov, McCann, Barry; Carew (Berger 73), Young (Ridgewell 90). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Davis, Maloney.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Carroll; Spector, Davenport, Upson (Dailly 30), McCartney; Benayoun, Reo-Coker, Quashie, Boa Morte (Etherington 61); Zamora, Blanco (Harewood 61). Substitutes not used: Green (gk), Mullins.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booking: West Ham Reo-Coker.

Man of the match: Carew.

Attendance: 41,202.