Enough of false nines – not that the real ones did much better. West Ham’s strikerless formation failed to break down a packed defence, while Aston Villa’s counter-attacking plan failed because Christian Benteke, the closest thing to an old-fashioned number nine on view, squandered a chance that any self-respecting centre-forward would have devoured.
Villa’s scoreless streak thus reached 375 minutes, but they remain a point ahead of West Ham, who have still not won a Premier League game at Upton Park since the opening day of season. On this showing they may not do so again until Andy Carroll returns from injury.
The 4-6-0 system that has been forced on them surprised Tottenham three games ago, but Villa were prepared.
Kevin Nolan, usually the furthest forward of West Ham’s midfield sextet, worked hard but although he has been a valuable source of goals in the past, he lacks a striker’s instinct. Carlton Cole – re-signed last month after being released in the summer – was introduced as a late substitute, but Matt Jarvis, surely the man most likely to supply him with the ball, was taken off at the same time.
Villa, already without Gabriel Agbonlahor because of an ankle injury, were further hampered when Andreas Weimann limped off in the second half. The Austrian forward had forced a save from Jussi Jaaskelainen early on and was denied in the 16th minute when Ravel Morrison pulled him back with both hands, unaccountably escaping a red card or even a free kick from Howard Webb. Yet Villa still could have won it. Benteke, unchallenged after escaping the marking of Tomkins, headed Matthew Lowton’s centre against the crossbar after 71 minutes.
“We had the best chances of the game,” Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, said. “Another day they go in. I’d be worried if we weren’t creating them. I had a word with Howard [about the penalty] and expressed my views. I thought from my angle it might have been.”
Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, said: “After three home defeats on the trot it was very important we didn’t lose. We tried to win it but didn’t find the quality to put the ball into the net.”
West Ham (4-6-0): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Tomkins, Reid, Rat; Jarvis (J Cole, 63), Morrison, Collison (C Cole, 63), Nolan, Noble, Downing.
Aston Villa (5-3-2): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Clark, Bacuna; Sylla, Westwood, El Ahmadi; Weimann (Kozak, 57), Benteke.
Referee: Howard Webb.
Man of the match: Vlaar (Aston Villa)
Match rating: 3/10