Houllier delighted by Villa 'fight' after late winner at Upton Park

West Ham 1 Aston Villa

Nick Szczepanik
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:14

All the signs at Upton Park on Saturday pointed in opposite directions for these clubs, towards safety for Aston Villa and relegation for West Ham United. But if West Ham want an example of what can be done to arrest a slide, they could do worse than follow Villa's claret and blueprint.

Just under a month ago, Villa lost 1-0 at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers shortly in the wake of reports of dressing-room disharmony and criticism of coaching staff by players.

Before the next match, away to Everton, there was "a short meeting", in the words of Gérard Houllier, the manager. He refused to reveal details of what was said, but several of his players suggested that the agenda included the need to rediscover their team ethic and fighting spirit.

The results speak for themselves – a 2-2 draw away to Everton, a home win against Newcastle, and Saturday's well-deserved comeback victory in East London. "We just said we were starting a new league, and in just three games we have picked up seven points," Houllier (above with Ashley Young) said. "More importantly, we have come back twice in those games from going behind. The fighting spirit is, to me, the base. Whatever the talent, you need to work and fight."

No player exemplified that winning combination of talent and fighting spirit more than Ashley Young. After a busy afternoon running at Lars Jacobsen, he still found the energy in injury time to charge after a loose ball and cross for Gabriel Agbonlahor to head the winner, and Houllier admitted that keeping him will be difficult. "We will discuss it with him," he said. "He puts the effort in every single game. His stats are fantastic."

Whether West Ham have as much talent as Villa is arguable, and fighting spirit has not been a given this season. Only once have they come from behind to win a league game, and when they lose a lead, heads visibly drop, as they did on Saturday.

However, they recovered from a three-goal deficit away to West Bromwich Albion to take a point after Scott Parker had spoken out at half time, so maybe the injured England midfield player – badly missed on the field against Villa – still has a key role to play, even if his achilles problem keeps him out of the next two matches, as expected.

Those games are difficult trips to Chelsea and Manchester City, but West Ham cannot afford to write them off in the hope of securing safety by winning their final three matches, against Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Sunderland.

"I think more or less we need nine points to be safe," Avram Grant, their manager, said. "The next two games are very hard but still we are not going to give up about [sic] these games. They won at the last moment and we are very disappointed." Time for that Villa-style team meeting.

Scorers: W Ham Keane 2. A Villa Bent 36, Agbonlahor 90. Subs: W Ham Gabbidon (Da Costa, 14), Hines (Obinna, 58), Ba (O'Neil 62). A Villa Agbonlahor (Heskey 78). Booked: None. Man of the match A Young. Match rating 6/10. Possession: W Ham 49% A Villa 51%. Attempts on target: W Ham 7 A Villa 11.

Referee M Halsey (Lancs). Att 34,672.

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