Benrahma penalty scant relief for West Ham as Watkins earns Aston Villa point | Premier League
There is not going to be a triumphant march to safety for West Ham if they cannot find a way through games like this. The boos at full-time underlined the frustration. David Moyes had watched his side inch above the relegation zone, Saïd Benrahma’s penalty earning West Ham a point, but the fact is that nobody was in a mood to celebrate.
The sense was of a missed opportunity. West Ham’s dreadful away form has left them under pressure but there were no home comforts here. Unai Emery’s Aston Villa were value for a point, though they will be disappointed not to have built on Ollie Watkins’s early goal, and West Ham would count the cost of another spluttering display in the final third.
Much would depend on whether West Ham could hold their nerve after seeing results go against them on Saturday afternoon. Bournemouth and Everton had both turned the screw, although at least Moyes could tell himself that it was unlikely to get much worse than last weekend’s capitulation at Brighton. That performance had surely represented the nadir. There had been a sense of patience snapping at the Amex Stadium, Moyes grim-faced as the travelling support turned on him, and this had the feel of a defining moment; one last chance for the Moyesiah to prove that he can still inspire this team.
Moyes restricted himself to two changes, Thilo Kehrer coming in for Ben Johnson at right-back, Kurt Zouma back in central defence, and West Ham made a bright start. Nayef Aguerd kneed wide from a free-kick. Jarrod Bowen went on a mazy run and lifted a cross over Matty Cash, who was relieved to see Benrahma volley over.
There was positive intent, a 4-1-4-1 system offering flexibility, Declan Rice staying back in defensive midfield and giving Tomas Soucek freedom to join Lucas Paquetá in a more advanced role. Yet it would not be long before their momentum stalled. Villa had looked to silence the crowd, who chuntered at Emi Martínez when he took an age to clear the ball during the opening minutes, and their patient approach would yield a swift reward, Álex Moreno advancing from left-back and whipping in a cross for Watkins to head home.
It was a soft concession. Douglas Luiz had advanced unchecked from midfield in the 17th minute, Kehrer had stood off Moreno and Aguerd had lost Watkins, who made the most of a gorgeous delivery by glancing in his sixth goal in seventh games.
Yet Villa, whose passing was lax at times had not exactly convinced. They were light in midfield without the assurance of the injured Boubacar Kamara, forcing Emery to start Leon Bailey on the right and move John McGinn into a deeper role, and West Ham saw vulnerabilities. Hope blossomed whenever Bowen, always on the hunt for opportunities on the break, found space behind Moreno.
West Ham kept looking to the right for Bowen. After 25 minutes the winger won and took a corner. Martínez flapped at it and Watkins headed Paquetá’s shot off the line. Villa were all over the place. Paquetá was streetwise. The Brazilian gathered the ball and, feeling contact from Bailey, tumbled in exaggerated fashion.
The referee, Chris Kavanagh, instantly pointed to the spot. Michael Salisbury, the VAR, could not find a clear and obvious error. It was naive defending from Bailey and Benrahma punished him by blasting his penalty past Martínez.
West Ham tried to push on after drawing level, their physicality causing problems, Soucek and Zouma going close. But Villa were far from finished. They almost led again when Moreno and Jacob Ramsey combined on the left, only for Areola to deny Watkins a second.
It began to feel as if an even contest would have to be decided by a touch of class. The mind also lingered on the sense within West Ham’s dressing room that Moyes’s approach is too cautious. The attacking angles were less predictable here. Paquetá was creating and Benrahma’s confidence grew at the start of the start half, his ability to get shots away twice forcing Martínez into excellent saves.
West Ham, who also saw Benrahma bend an effort narrowly wide, were on top. Emery soon responded, Lucas Digne replacing Moreno, Bertrand Traoré on for Bailey.
Villa improved. They appealed for a penalty when Rice tangled with the disappointing Emi Buendía. The temperature rose and West Ham, whose striker, Danny Ings, was subdued against his old side, found an extra burst of energy. With eight minutes left Bowen found Pablo Fornals but the substitute shot over. Moments later Benrhama shot wide.
It seemed that Villa had settled for a point when Calum Chambers replaced Watkins. Yet the substitute, Jhon Durán, could have won it in the final minute. West Ham lived on the edge. It is going to be a nervy end to the season.