The London side, buoyed by victory over Chelsea last Wednesday, had John Hartson back after suspension to combine in attack with fellow new signing Paul Kitson, who had netted the stoppage-time winner against Ruud Gullit's team. Harry Redknapp, the Upton Park manager, is pinning his hopes of survival on this pair scoring goals.
He would have been encouraged by the way Hartson's pass located his partner as West Ham launched their first attack, and it took a solid tackle from Gareth Southgate to save Mark Bosnich from being tested. Kitson was denied again soon after when David Hughes, the young Welsh defender starting his first home game for Villa, performed an equally timely block.
Villa were without Savo Milosevic, injured while playing for Yugoslavia in midweek, and they left Tommy Johnson on the bench to ponder further a possible return to Derby County. This allowed Julian Joachim, the one- time Young England starlet, a rare opportunity, and he might have made an opening for himself twice inside the first 15 minutes. Released by Dwight Yorke, he was robbed by Julian Dicks and he then volleyed the ball into the crowd when Hughes used his height to knock down Alan Wright's cross 12 yards out.
There was plenty of open football, as much generated by West Ham as by the home side, and it was a shame an injury to Frank Lampard disrupted the flow after half an hour, requiring Redknapp to send on Rio Ferdinand in midfield. Within minutes of the change, West Ham went close, only a reflex save by Bosnich preventing a goal after Kitson and Stan Lazaridis had linked on the left to set up what looked to be a sitter for Hartson.
Villa, working with limited options, sought to exploit the pace of their front-runners but the balance of play during the opening phase of the second half still favoured West Ham. Another chance came their way when Kitson opened up the defence by way of a one-two with Hartson. Again, Bosnich rescued Villa.
But the speed of the home side's counter-attacks frightened the visitors, and when a stray pass by Ian Bishop created danger, John Moncur became the fourth West Ham player to be cautioned by referee David Elleray after bringing down Mark Draper with tackle from behind.
The arrival of substitutes Johnson and Lee Hendrie in the last 20 minutes pepped up Villa but home supporters held their breath again when Kitson chased a long clearance 13 minutes from the end. The striker could not get away from Southgate, however, and the England defender deflected the shot over.Reuse content