Gardner shoots Villa up to fifth
Craig Gardner sent Aston Villa up to fifth in the Premier League as his first half goal clinched a 1-0 victory over West Ham United on Saturday.
Villa midfielder Gardner claimed his second goal in successive matches with a deflected free-kick and that was enough for Martin O'Neill's men to condemn West Ham to a third consecutive league defeat. It was the perfect response after Villa's horror show against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday when they had to settle for a draw despite leading 4-1.
For West Ham it was further proof that several of Alan Curbishley's side are once again failing to live up to their reputations. O'Neill kept faith with the team that had squandered ast Ham United three-goal lead against Spurs, giving Nigel Reo-Coker the chance to face West Ham for the first time since his close-season switch to the Midlands.
West Ham started brightly at Villa Park and Henri Camara had the ball in the net after nine minutes, but he had handled to turn in Matthew Etherington's cross and was yellow-carded.
Villa showed few signs of being adversely affected by their meltdown at Spurs and Gareth Barry forced Robert Green to parry a long-range effort early on. O'Neill would have taken encouragement from that but he was fuming moments later after Lucas Neill appeared to tug back Ashley Young in the penalty area, only for referee Steve Tanner to turn down the hosts' appeals for a spot-kick.
Young was causing havoc in the West Ham defence. He picked out Gabriel Agbonlahor with a perfect cross, but the youngster's glancing header was saved by Green.
Agbonlahor had made his presence felt and he played a key role in Villa's goal after 24 minutes. The England U-21 winger surged away from Danny Gabbidon, who was forced to concede a free-kick with a despairing lunge. Gardner stepped up to drive in a low strike that took a slight deflection off the beleaguered Gabbidon as it flashed past Green.
Curbishley's side responded with a penetrating run and cross from Etherington, but Scott Carson was equal to Freddie Ljungberg's diving header.
Villa were guilty of some careless defending that almost cost them an equaliser after 55 minutes. Olof Mellberg's header only went to Carlton Cole but the striker failed to make proper contact and Scott Carson saved.
West Ham were gradually becoming the dominant force and Lee Bowyer went close with a header from Neill's cross. They had the momentum but the visitors couldn't force an equaliser. Cole had their last chance and his weak header from Ljungberg's cross never threatened to beat Carson.
Villa defender Martin Lauren's gritty display summed up his side's fighting spirit and he finished the match with a heavily bandaged head after a painful collision in the final stages.