Gabriel late strike proves a Hammer blow


LONDON – West Ham’s hopes of avoiding relegation from the Premier League suffered a huge blow as Gabriel Agbonlahor’s stoppage-time goal gave Aston Villa a 2-1 win at Upton Park on Saturday.
Avram Grant’s team now head into matches against Chelsea and Manchester City stuck in the bottom three and with just five games to save their season. At least Grant will be back from his touchline ban for the rest of the season, barring more action from the Football Association for his comments at referees, and they need inspiration after three consecutive defeats.
He was in the stands to see Darren Bent cancel out West Ham’s lead after Robbie Keane had opened the scoring in the second minute of the game. The hosts were dealt a blow before kick-off when Scott Parker, their star player this season, was ruled out with an Achilles problem he has been carrying most of the campaign.
Villa’s prospects of survival looked almost assured after their win over Newcastle in the previous game, although former France coach Gerard Houllier resisted the temptation to use an unchanged team as Nigel Reo-Coker came in against his old club. This match was billed as the ‘Best Of British’ by the West Ham marketing department ahead of the Royal Wedding in England.
There were 14 British players starting the game but it was an Irishman who opened the scoring, 105 seconds into the game, and he was set up by a German. Villa failed to clear Mark Noble’s corner further than the edge of the penalty area and Thomas Hitzlsperger headed back towards goal. Keane was played onside by Ashley Young, who had been guarding a post, and the West Ham forward turned and volleyed into the roof of the net for his second goal since arriving from Tottenham.
Carlton Cole came close to doubling West Ham’s lead. He had a penalty appeal turned down when he went shoulder-to-shoulder with Richard Dunne, then he forced Brad Friedel into a save at the near post. But Villa edged their way back into the game and felt they should had a goal unfairly ruled out when Bent was penalised for pushing Lars Jacobsen as he headed home.
England striker Bent, however, did level eight minutes before the break.