O'Neill frustrated as Villa's dream fades

Aston Villa's unsuccessful hunt for a Premier League win stretched to nine games after they were denied by a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with West Ham United on 18 April. Diego Tristan's 84th-minute header earned West Ham a deserved point and highlighted exactly why Villa have faded so badly over the last two months.

Despite creating plenty of chances, and with the boost of Emile Heskey's first-half strike behind them, they simply could not kill West Ham off. Villa are now seven points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, who have a game in hand. The draw effectively ended their fading hopes of qualifying for Europe's elite club competition.

"A win would have got us up and running again. I'm not giving up on fourth place, but it's a difficult task now and we need help from others," O'Neill said. "We were denied a clear penalty, but that's the way it's going for us at the moment.

"Going forward we were exhilarating and after 25 minutes we could have had five. But we were unable to see it through," O'Neill said. "We are highly-entertaining, but are unable to close things out. The last three games we have played very well, but taken just two points."

Things started off on the wrong foot before a ball was even kicked as referee Rob Styles ordered Villa to change from their usual claret-and-blue to avoid a clash with West Ham's light blue kit. Villa played in all-white and O'Neill said: "I don't have too much to say about that. But I'm not overly delighted at being told we couldn't play at Villa Park in our home kit."

A win would have got us up and running again. I'm not giving up on fourth place, but it's a difficult task now and we need help from others.
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill

The Hammers should have gone ahead after just two minutes when Luis Boa Morte set Junior Stanislas clear and presented the youngster with a clear opportunity to score only his second league goal. Stanislas tried to pick his spot, but placed his shot too close to Brad Friedel.

Villa looked edgy early on until skipper Gareth Barry took a hand. The England midfielder has been in the form of his career at times this season and was at his best again as he fired his side into life.

Barry almost opened the scoring after ten minutes, heading just wide. A minute later, he provided the pass from which James Milner picked out Heskey, who bundled home. Heskey almost netted again seven minutes later, with Barry this time providing the cross, and went even closer after 28 minutes when Mark Noble's back pass fell short of Robert Green, but steered his shot against the post.

Villa continued to press but could not find the second goal to kill the game and always looked vulnerable to counter-attacks. Friedel was Villa's hero again ten minutes from time, thrusting out a leg to prevent Boa Morte equalising.

But there was nothing Friedel could do four minutes later when Noble's cleared corner was lobbed back in by Kieron Dyer and Tristan's header earned West Ham a deserved draw. Villa had a late penalty claim rejected when James Tomkins appeared to handle while grappling with John Carew to leave manager Martin O'Neill frustrated.

Zola looking forward
Under Italian coach Gianfranco Zola, West Ham's future looks bright and the former Chelsea player confirmed he expects talks over a new contract to reach a positive conclusion soon. Zola is due to meet club owners next week with a view to signing a longer-term deal despite the present uncertainty over United's future ownership.

"We are talking and it is looking good. Hopefully something is going to happen. I believe there is going to be stability here," Zola said.