West Ham 2-0 Aston Villa: Jordan Ayew sent off in disgrace
Jordan Ayew was sent off in disgrace as Aston Villa were shoved a step closer to relegation following a 2-0 defeat at West Ham.
Ghana striker Ayew left his struggling side in the lurch when he was dismissed for a vicious elbow into the face of Aaron Cresswell after just 17 minutes.
And it was Villa who ended up with a bloody nose after Michail Antonio and Cheikhou Kouyate struck in the second half to end the 10 men's resistance.
Rock-bottom Villa were actually well on top, having forced a couple of corners and seen a reasonable penalty shout turned down when Gabriel Agbonlahor's cross hit Antonio's arm.
So it was utterly mystifying when Ayew, who was jostling for position with Cresswell from a throw-in deep in West Ham territory, swung out his elbow into the defender's face and left him sprawled on the floor.
Referee Jonathan Moss produced a straight red card and Ayew trudged off to leave his team-mates facing a long evening a man down.
Villa promptly retreated back into their own half, with their remaining nine outfield players camped behind the ball, as West Ham set about what proved to be a difficult task of breaking them down.
They were inches away from making the breakthrough when James Tomkins lashed Cresswell's centre back across goal but Enner Valencia could only divert the ball over the crossbar.
Antonio fired wide after a crafty backheel from Alex Song, and Tomkins burst into the area again only to blaze over before Valencia curled a free-kick wide in first-half stoppage time.
The one-way traffic continued after the break, with Micah Richards hooking James Collins' header clear from under the crossbar, before Mark Noble crashed in a superb volley from the edge of the box, only to see Mark Bunn make an equally fine save.
Patience was clearly the order of the day for the hosts, and it finally paid off in the 58th minute when Noble floated a long, diagonal ball into the area.
Antonio timed his run perfectly to stay onside and guided a deft header back across Bunn and into the far corner of the net.
Cresswell, Noble and Dimitri Payet curled efforts narrowly wide as the Hammers looked for the killer second.
It came with five minutes remaining courtesy of a lightning break from a Villa corner. Valencia collected Payet's neat touch on the edge of his own area and went haring up the field.
Kouyate had somehow kept up with the winger and got his reward with an inch-perfect pass to fire past Bunn and complete another miserable chapter in Villa's nightmare season.
Belfast Telegraph Digital