West Ham eased the pressure building from their slow start to the campaign with a nervy 1-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday.
A debut for Emerson and a first league start for Gianluca Scamacca failed to inspire West Ham back to their best, but a deflected strike from Pablo Fornals ultimately proved the difference and decided the points.
A scrappy start saw neither side establish dominance but Villa almost took the lead through Ezri Konsa’s 14th-minute header following a corner, but the assistant referee spotted the ball go out of play on its way into the box and rightly ruled it out.
The scores may have stayed level, but that incident saw Villa grow into the ascendancy – a cause aided by the injury-enforced departure of West Ham right-back Ben Johnson. They dominated possession and caused plenty of problems through Philippe Coutinho, who had the West Ham defence on skates at times.
The visitors, who set up in a 3-4-3, had their first shot on goal 42 minutes in as Fornals’ ambitious volley went soaring wide, bringing a frustrating end to what was another disappointing 45 minutes from David Moyes’ side.
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Said Benrahma replaced Emerson at the break as Moyes returned to his traditional setup and it did bring more intensity out of West Ham, who could have taken the lead through Jarrod Bowen had it not been for some sensational defending from Lucas Digne and Matty Cash, who combined to prevent the England forward from finding the back of the net early in the second half.
Villa’s quality in the final third wasn’t a whole lot better, although Emi Buendia nearly changed that with a glorious pass that was just inches away from presenting Danny Ings with a chance to open the scoring, and their profligacy was punished just moments later as Fornals broke the deadlock.
West Ham’s first goal of the Premier League season wasn’t a pretty one – Fornals’ strike from range took a wicked deflection off Konsa and left Martinez with no chance – but Moyes will not care one bit.
In a match with so little quality in front of goal, it proved to be a fitting decider in what was an otherwise underwhelming affair.
Steven Gerrard will be frustrated not to have seen Villa take advantage of their early dominance, while West Ham, who were again well below par, will have undoubtedly eased the nerves with a first goal and first victory of the campaign.