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Cleverley boosts Villa survival

Published 09/05/2015

Tom Cleverley, right, scored the winner for Aston Villa
Tom Cleverley, right, scored the winner for Aston Villa
Tom Cleverley, left, was Aston Villa's hero against West Ham

Tom Cleverley handed Aston Villa a massive survival boost as they hung on to beat West Ham 1-0.

The midfielder scored his third goal in three games to move Villa four points clear of the Barclays Premier League drop zone in a pulsating relegation scrap.

Sunderland's early win at Everton had piled the pressure on Tim Sherwood's side but they kept their cool during a composed first half to wrap up the points.

Villa are 14th with just two games left but hold a crucial cushion over Hull, who occupy the final drop spot, after the Tigers lost at home to Burnley - who were relegated.

Uninspiring West Ham offered little but Shay Given did have to tip James Collins' header over in the second half as their wait for an away win continues.

Both sides were unchanged as the Hammers chased their first away league victory in 11 games but it was Villa who made the brighter start.

Leandro Bacuna had Adrian scrambling with a free kick which whistled over before the keeper pushed Cleverley's smart volley away after 12 minutes.

Christian Benteke, April's Barclays Premier League Player of the Month, then missed his kick from Jores Okore's knockdown.

In contrast, the Hammers failed to find any early rhythm as Ron Vlaar and Okore kept lone frontman Enner Valencia quiet.

Morgan Amalfitano and Stewart Downing also failed to threaten with the Hammers looking one-dimensional and Villa took advantage as Jack Grealish conjured up some magic to gift Cleverley the opener.

Charles N'Zogbia found Grealish on the left and the 19-year-old tricked his way to the byline, brushing off a half-hearted challenge from Downing, to square for Cleverley to tap in from four yards.

The goal sapped West Ham's confidence and highlighted why they have not won on the road in the league since beating West Brom 2-1 in December.

They tried to unsettle Villa with their physicality - Amalfitano was involved in a spat with Cleverley - but the hosts remained calm.

Boss Sam Allardyce reacted by replacing the ineffective Kevin Nolan and Amalfitano with Alex Song and Nene at the break.

And instantly the visitors were brighter and Nene drilled over from 25-yards on 50 minutes as they searched for the equaliser.

It was a warning for Villa and N'Zogbia hit the side netting four minutes later but the Hammers were noticeably brighter.

Given turned Collins' header over on 59 minutes as they began to see more of the ball with Villa struggling to recreate their first half dominance.

Valencia had the ball in the net with 24 minutes left, heading in Downing's cross, but was offside as Villa's nerves grew and they began to sit deeper.

Gabby Agbonlahor replaced N'Zogbia as Sherwood looked for another outlet and Villa almost added to their lead at the death.

Ashley Westwood scuffed a shot wide with five minutes left and Agbonlahor wasted a golden chance in injury time to seal it.

The substitute raced onto a long ball with Reece Burke covering but the Villa man still managed to get a shot away with just Adrian to beat but fired wide.

Adrian also denied Cleverley, beating the midfielder's 20-yard effort away, as Villa clinched the points.

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