On the hottest day of the year it was time to kick-off the new season back in the Premier League. Upton Park was the venue for this battle of the two sides who don the claret and blue kits.
The match saw competitive starting debuts for new signings James Collins, Jussi Jaaskalainen, Mohammed Diame and George McCartney, although the latter of the four it probably felt like a normal start in the shirt having spent the previous season on loan.
As the game kicked off, few would be blamed if they felt it was going to be an evening of frustration. A lot of stray passes missing their targets and Aston Villa looking comfortable on the ball, it didn't start as many may have hoped. I can't blame the players, the opening fixture is normally a cagey affair and you just want to make sure you don't make yourselves foolish. Aston Villa had a very early strike at goal through Brett Holmann that Jussi watched stray past his right post. Following this strike their appeared to be about 5 minutes worth of fouls by each team, some seemed fairly light, but it may have been Mike Dean stamping his authority and letting the teams know they he wasn't letting players do anything silly. After that Villa had another shot go wide right of the goal.
After this short spell of dominance in the opening 10 minutes from Aston Villa, West Hams midfield started winning the ball more in the middle of the pitch and it soon appeared that they were growing into the game. Trying to spread the ball out wide and get some crosses and also winning a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas near the goal. It soon came from one of these free kicks that Ciaran Clark was booked for a foul on Mohammed Diame. Noble then sent the ball into the box from the far left with the free kick, the ball seemed to float over everyone apart from Wembley hero Ricardo Vaz Te who then put the ball back in for Nolan to tap home from close range and put West Ham 1-0 up. Something tells me Nolan's goal scoring ability could be a huge asset to our season. The game carried on much in the same way in the second half, with cheap fouls being conceded, Aston Villa looked happy to pass the ball around, but never really seemed to create anything and debutant Collins and Reid in the centre of defence dealt with any high balls by being commanding in the air. Half time came and it was so far so good, going into the break with a 1-0 lead.
The second half arrived and the sun was still shining. West Ham started the half brightly winning an early corner and from that corner winning a second instantly after, it felt as though the team may have started feeling confident. Still no threat from the Aston Villa attack, Collins proving what a buy he was as he kept Bent quiet and maybe made the Villa fans question why they sold him. Possession seemed to flip between each team in short spells, Diame looking very comfortable at fending off players when in possession and taking the odd player on to feed through to the attack as well made for a very promising future for the Senegalese.
At the 73 minute mark West Ham brought off their skipper and goal scorer Nolan for academy player Tomkins, both players met with a thunderous round of applause and an opportunity to see if Tomkins could manage in a midfield role like he had a few times in the Championship. It almost felt as though we were shutting up shop. Which probably made a few people nervy as nobody likes to see a team try to defend a 1-0 lead. This wasn't quite the case though as West Ham had their best opportunity to double the lead shortly after, a beautiful delivery from Matty Taylor was met by the head of Cole, who saw this header run agonisingly close but just wide of the post, it has to be said, the reaction of Collins face said it all, he couldn't believe it hadn't been a second.
On the 80th minute West Ham were then introduced to another new signing, Modibo Maiga was put on to replace Cole. It then felt like the quietest 10 minutes of the game as neither team really kept hold of the ball when pushing forward to produce anything. The fourth officials board was then put up to announce there would be 4 minutes of added time, much to the disbelief of the home support, as nobody could really tell where they had amounted 4 minutes from. Villa then tried route one to get themselves back level and salvage something from a game where they seemed to have not turned up. Once again Reid and Collins rose to the challenge, clearing their lines comfortably. 2 minutes into added time and we finally got to see what Maiga was made of, a long ball was lofted over for him and he had beaten the Aston Villa defence for pace to run through on goal, he then rounded the oncoming Given and struck a tame left footed shot at goal which was cleared off the line, so unfortunate for the man from Malia, as he looked to have done enough to cap his debut with a goal in front of the home crowd, unfortunately for him though, his touch past Given made it a tough tight angle and he couldn't get an easy shot on the goal.
Shortly after the full time whistle was blown. West Ham capped their return to the Premiership with a 1-0 home win and it was definitely deserved. Although the side didn't perform outstanding, they had definitely proved to Aston Villa that we weren't hear to be taken lightly. Our defence especially deserved fantastic credit for coping with everything that was thrown their way. James Collins marked his debut with a man of the match performance and I wouldn't be surprised if Diame was a close second and Reid just behind him.
Demel, Collins, Reid, McCartney (71)
Diame, Noble, Nolan (73)
Vaz Te, Cole (80), M.Taylor
Henderson, Tomkins (73), O'Brien (71), Diarra, O'Neil, Maynard, Maiga (80)
Baker, Vlaar, Clark, Lowton
Ireland, El Ahmadi, Delph (77)
N'Zogbia (74), Bent, Holman (61)
Guzan, Lichaj, Bannan (77), Herd, Gardner (74), Weimann (61), Burke