Roeder puts up little defence as Villa rediscover the way to goal

Aston Villa 4 West Ham United 1
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The Independent Football

Six games unbeaten now and, glory be, Villa potted four goals for the first time in 26 months to move up to halfway in the table. Those four goals were also enough to send West Ham to the bottom and spark fresh speculation about the ability of their manager, Glenn Roeder, to pull his team out of their tailspin.

Blaming the loss on "poor defending, yet again", Roeder insisted: "I am fine. I work extremely hard and have got belief in myself. I'm confident that I will turn it round but I can't speculate about whether I will be given the chance."

Until their collapse towards the end, fatally unhinged by the heading of Dion Dublin and electric running of Darius Vassell, West Ham had contributed much to a highly entertaining match, one in which end-to-end play ensued practically non-stop. In fact, only two stupendous saves by Peter Enckelman preserved Villa's one-goal lead early in the second half.

But, from the start, Villa had shown what a run of success can do for confidence. With Gareth Barry assured once again, they were able to build in midfield through the energetic work of Oyvind Leonhardsen on the right and Lee Hendrie's positioning and distribution. And though Ian Pearce and Christian Dailly managed, for a long time, to fend off the predatory pair, Vassell and Dublin, it was with increasing anxiety and, eventually, desperation as Villa ran away with it.

As shots rained in on goal at both ends, it was just a question of time before one went in. The opening goal duly came on the half-hour after Dailly was booked for fouling Hendrie. The free-kick was chipped forward by Barry and knocked down by Dublin to Hendrie, who wriggled between two slow-reacting defenders to shoot past David James.

It could have been two just before half-time. Dublin got in a powerful header from a Barry cross which struck James, who did not know much about what was going on, and in injury time Vassell clipped the bar.

Within 10 minutes of the resumption, Enckelman pulled off his two great saves, the first from Edouard Cissé and the second from Trevor Sinclair, both instinctive blocks, to keep Villa at the races. But it was a sign of things to come that, between those two saves, Leonhardsen's header was acrobatically cleared off the line by Pearce.

The nervous touchline-pacing of Villa's manager, Graham Taylor, was calmed by the second goal after 58 minutes. It was almost entirely down to Vassell, back in the side after injury, who assiduously sought an opening for himself in a tight-packed defence and, when it was clear there would not be one, slipped the ball to his left for Leonhardsen to beat James at his near post.

No game would be complete without a James blooper, and he provided one by spilling a Leonhardsen shot at the feet of Dublin, who scuffed wide. Perhaps, mused Taylor, Dublin was waiting to get a goal by the more usual way of his head. Whatever, it could have cost Villa, since West Ham surged to the other end and Joe Cole set up Sinclair for a cross which Paolo Di Canio stooped to head in.

Villa's response could not have been more positive. Cissé was booked for fouling Vassell, Hendrie swung over the free-kick and Dublin did the expected thing, outjumping Pearce and a hesitant James to nod in.

Ten minutes from the final whistle, the Holte End's joy was complete. It was, Taylor asserted, "as good a team goal as you will ever see", as Leonhardsen put the seal on a fine build-up with a precise through-ball for Vassell to drive low past the despairing James.

Aston Villa 4
Hendrie 29, Leonhardsen 59, Dublin 72, Vassell 80

West Ham United 1
Di Canio 70

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 33,279

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