An afternoon of increasing frustration for West Ham ended in something distinctly worse, both for themselves and England, when Dean Ashton suffered a knee injury that reduced him to the role of walking wounded by the end of this frantic but largely unaccomplished match.
West Ham's manager, Alan Curbishley, who has already seen his squad depleted by injuries to Kieron Dyer, Scott Parker and most recently Craig Bellamy, was resigned to being without his striker for at least a couple of weeks. He also made it clear that Ashton was effectively out of contention for the upcoming England duties in their Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia.
"I think he is very, very doubtful for the England game," Curbishley said. "He swung a boot to clear the ball and caught someone's boot and tweaked his medial knee ligament. I'm not sure how long he'll be out – it depends how badly he's done it, so we'll have to see."
It is bad luck for Ashton, who spent most of last season recovering from the broken ankle he suffered while training with England and has returned to something like his best scoring form within the last month.
"He's worked hard to get back. It sums everything up for us at the moment," Curbishley added.
For Villa, yesterday was all about getting the extraordinary events of Monday's 4-4 draw at Spurs – having been 4-1 up – out of their system. To the satisfaction of the majority of the crowd, they did so, although their manager Martin O'Neill felt those exertions in north London began to tell on them in the second half after they had made a start that threatened to sweep West Ham out of contention.
The left midfielder Ashley Young was at the heart of most of Villa's bright early work, taunting and troubling the Hammers' captain, Lucas Neill, who appeared fortunate not to concede a penalty in the 13th minute after bringing the former Watford man to ground in the area.
Villa took a deserved lead in the 24th minute when Danny Gabbidon was adjudged to have toppled Gabriel Agbonlahor over in the 'D' of the penalty area – a decision which Curbishley felt unjust. From the free kick, Craig Gardner fired home a low shot that took a deflection off Gabiddon.
It looked like being the first of several goals for the home side, who were driven on by the midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, making his first appearance against the club he used to captain after his acrimonious summer move for £8.5m.
Reo-Coker, who earned predictable boos from the visiting fans, set to his work with particular fervour, and spent much of his time hounding Lee Bowyer, eventually being booked for his trouble. He seemed not displeased.