West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 2: O'Neill faces up to task of keeping Barry

Mike Rowbottom
Monday 12 May 2008 00:00
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As it turned out, Everton's victory yesterday ensured Villa could not claim automatic Uefa Cup qualification, and Tottenham's defeat meant West Ham would finish in the top half of the Premier League table whatever. But two sides who were surely aware of the relevant results before they left the pitch nevertheless produced the kind of open, eventful match for which Upton Park has become celebrated over the years.

Villa will now start next season a week early as they make a final effort to earn a Uefa Cup place through the Intertoto Cup, although whether they will do so with their captain Gareth Barry – whose 57th-minute goal appeared to be bringing his side a final yield of three more points until Dean Ashton's thunderous equaliser two minutes from time – remains to be seen.

Liverpool, whose win at White Hart Lane meant West Ham were safe in 10th place, are likely to press their interest in the England midfielder this summer, but Villa's manager Martin O'Neill remained sanguine about the club's hopes of hanging on to Barry afterwards. O'Neill said the club would be talking to Barry within the next few days, and that the club's chairman, Randy Lerner, who was watching at West Ham, would also be speaking to the player.

"We will be making the point about how much we value him and how much we want him to remain at Villa," O'Neill said. "Gareth Barry has two years left on his contract." Asked if he could understand Barry wanting to move to a team playing Champions League football next season, the manager said with a grin: "No... We will try to guarantee him Champions League football in the next 23 years."

O'Neill accepted that the Intertoto Cup has been viewed as something of a joke competition by some. "Some years ago I probably would have agreed, but the format is very different now," he said. "We don't have to play 17 games by the middle of June. What it does mean it is that we will have to come back maybe a week earlier and be in competitive mode earlier than we would have wanted to."

A place in Europe is but a long-term aim for Curbishley, whose main hope is that he will start next season with the bulk of his 40-strong squad fit after a season blighted by injuries.

Ashley Young might have put Villa ahead in the third minute, hitting a post on the break, but it was the home side who took the lead five minutes later through a Nolberto Solano free-kick.

Villa's ambition, and pace, saw them take hold of the game, however, and after Young brought them level in the 14th minute with a well-placed shot, they went ahead when Barry thumped home a rebound after Robert Green parried John Carew's shot.

Ashton's instant shot from a John Pantsil cross earned West Ham a share of the points, although Scott Parker needed to make a goalmouth clearance in the second minute of added time to keep it that way.

Goals: Solano (8) 1-0, Young (14) 1-1, Barry (58) 1-2, Ashton (88) 2-2.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Tomkins, Ferdinand, McCartney (Pantsil, h-t); Solano, Parker, Noble (Sears, 80min), Boa Morte; Zamora (Cole, 73), Ashton. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Mullins.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Knight, Laursen, Bouma; Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Harewood, 87). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Salifou, Routledge, Maloney .

Booked: West Ham Neill, Parker; Aston Villa Mellberg, Petrov.

Referee: M Dean

Man of the match: Parker

Attendance: 34,969

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