West Ham's South American football revolution has begun at last but toppling the Premiership's established powers might take Carlos Tevez a bit more time. After facing Brazil last Sunday there was more prosaic opposition for the man from Fuerte Apache yesterday, but he found an Aston Villa side that were reluctant merely to provide the supporting cast for a famous debut in English football.
Alan Pardew may not have the strongest side in the Premiership but there was an argument yesterday that the West Ham manager had the strongest substitutes' bench in the division. Martin O'Neill, his Aston Villa counterpart, admitted to a shade of envy for a manager who could call upon Tevez with 29 minutes left, yet, while Javier Mascherano stayed on the bench, this was a game from which Pardew was glad to take a point.
If we are witnessing a major upheaval in football at West Ham, where two of the most sought-after players in the world can be acquired by a middling Premiership club, something equally remarkable is taking place at Villa. Under O'Neill, a side that stumbled out of the way of relegation last season have been transformed into a pacy attacking unit that are still unbeaten and now fifth in the Premiership.
The debutant who caught the eye yesterday was not Tevez but Stilian Petrov, O'Neill's £6.5m acquisition from Celtic, who looked assured and dangerous at the centre of Villa's five-man midfield. For long periods of the first half, in particular, West Ham were out-played. The two Argentines on the bench who had waved shyly to the crowd when they were introduced before the match might even have been tempted to check the validity of their unusual contracts.
In the stands was Kia Joorabchian, the Iranian investor who has expressed an interest in buying West Ham and has done the most to bring Tevez and Mascherano to the club. Before the match Pardew had pledged to defend "the history and integrity" of the club in the face of great change. Never mind the club's 111-year-old traditions, after 30 minutes, the home support would have settled for a team that could defend corners.
Liam Ridgewell put Villa ahead after four minutes and it was not until the 52nd minute that Bobby Zamora deflected in the equaliser. "It's just not true," was O'Neill's protest against his own restorative effect on Villa, although if they continue like this he may struggle to keep passing on the credit. "I can be as bolshy and big-headed as anybody," he said, "but the players are putting an enormous effort into this."
That the biggest cheer of the first half from the home crowd was the reaction to the two Argentines warming up says much about the quality of West Ham's performance. Pardew had asked the fans to remember the efforts last season that, he said, had contributed to the signing of the Argentine pair. But later he admitted the "circus" of the last few weeks had a profound effect on his team.
Villa took the lead on four minutes, aided by the pace of Luke Moore and Gabriel Agbonlahor on both flanks and the wavering concentration of Danny Gabbidon and Anton Ferdinand, who were horrendously exposed on three occasions at corners in the first half - the first cost them a goal.
From Gareth Barry's corner on Villa's right the impressive Agbonlahor won a header that was pushed out by Roy Carroll and then forced in by Ridgewell from close range. It was a clumsy goal to give away and the embarrassment for Pardew was soon heightened when Juan Pablo Angel cracked a header against the bar from another Barry corner.
Marlon Harewood had missed badly when Thomas Sorensen miscued a back-pass straight at him and just after the hour the West Ham striker trudged mournfully to the touchline with Upton Park on its feet in anticipation of the introduction of Tevez. It was a reminder to the hero of West Ham's FA Cup final run last season of how quickly football fans can forget. The new show in town was wearing a No 32 shirt and came on to a vociferous welcome.
By then West Ham had equalised and the goal had owed a lot to the persistence of Harewood down the right flank. He reached the Villa goal-line and his cross was put out by Martin Laursen. From the corner, Paul Konchesky sent an emphatic header goalward which clipped Zamora's thigh and beat Sorensen.
Minutes later, the West Ham right-back Tyrone Mears scooped the ball off his own line after Petrov, through on goal, had delicately lobbed Carroll. Then a Barry shot palmed out by the West Ham goalkeeper was nudged back in by Agbonlahor - on that occasion it was Ferdinand who cleared off the line.
Tevez has come a long way to play for West Ham, but it is unlikely that he spent that transatlantic flight daydreaming of Konchesky's ability to cross a ball. The West Ham full-back sent one ball into the Bobby Moore Stand as Tevez waited in the area in expectation. The Argentine striker was full of willing, even if he lacked the sharpness of touch required
But Upton Park sighed in admiration at the few examples of Tevez's technique. He burst past Laursen, he flicked a ball to Zamora without a glance and yet the pace of the game seemed to overwhelm him at times. "You know when you look at him [Tevez] that he needs to work hard to get up to his best," Pardew said, "but he has immense talent."
The West Ham manager suggested that both new signings will play against Palermo in the Uefa Cup on Thursday and in the mean time Newham Council, in east London, will be flying the Argentina flag from its town hall to welcome the players. From their Docklands apartments overlooking the Thames it might be difficult for the two of them to catch sight of it, and after yesterday they will know they have a way to go yet to adjust to the kind of football played in their new country.
Goals: Ridgewell (4) 0-1; Zamora (52) 1-1
West Ham United (4-4-2): Carroll; Mears, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Konchesky; Bowyer (Etherington, 72), Reo-Coker, Mullins, Benayoun; Zamora (Cole, 83), Harewood (Tevez, 61). Substitutes not used: Green (gk),Mascherano.
Aston Villa (4-5-1): Sorensen; Mellberg, Laursen, Ridgewell, Barry; Agbonlahor, Davis, Petrov, McCann, Moore; Angel (Baros, 81). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Whittingham, Berger, Gardner.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: West Ham Mullins, Zamora; Aston Villa Barry, McCann.
Man of the match: Petrov.
Attendance: 34,576.Reuse content