Memories of the last time we played Aston Villa on opening day

After moving up north and further away from my beloved West Ham, my Dad and I decided to attend as many local away games as possible. We’d done a couple before 2010 but the first of our regular away visits was to Villa Park for our opening match of the 10/11 campaign.

We made our way from Manchester in an old Honda Accord, so we left pretty early to try and get it to reach 60 miles per hour on the M6. When we turned off the motorway, I got the same feeling I got when I caught my first glimpse of the pitch at my very first football match.

Villa Park is very close to the motorway, so you can see it straight away. It was nice to be visiting somewhere new, and I got all excited and snapped away with my camera. We got in to the stadium, took our second row seats, and began singing.

First day of the season, sunny day (although it did storm later) and decent team sheet – plenty of reasons to be cheerful and optimistic. But we’re West Ham, and it doesn’t always work like that. To sum it up in a sentence, it was probably one of the worst performances I’d seen for a long time, not helped by the fact that Luis Boa Morte had started.

I think Villa had the luck that a new manager seems to bring for their first match in charge, as Martin O’Neill had just parted company with the club. Downing scored from an obviously offside position to give them the advantage, but I’m not going to even use that as an excuse as to why we went on to lose 3-0, because what followed for the remainder of the
first half was embarrassing.

I remember thinking that if every away game was going to go this way, it would be a long season. After half time though, we came flying out of the traps. We looked hungry and worked hard. I think that lasted for about 10 minutes until we returned to sloppy defending and giving balls away as if we forgotten it wasn’t us who was playing in claret and blue that day.

As always, the 3,000 strong West Ham following took the opportunity to spur on the players, but unfortunately with little response. I have looked at some stats to remind how the day actually went, and I have discovered that we actually had two shots on target that day.

I’ll admit to sometimes being over optimistic, but I do think today’s opening match against Villa will be better than it was two years ago. Why? Big Sam. Without wishing to disrespect Avram Grant, I think Allardyce will be more realistic in his approach to the season.

We have just been promoted from the Championship, which is exciting, but in reality it was a closer call than we had anticipated. The start of this season calls for composure and professionalism. I’d like to think that this season we won’t be taking anything for granted, whereas two years ago, I guess we were a bit more complacent.

I think Allardyce will install that belief into the team and make them realise that they can’t afford to assume anything. We must have learnt by now that a slow start to a season does nothing for morale. I class Villa as a good team, but one that is beatable.

Last season they looked underconfident at times, so they’re probably regrouping too. If we can catch them off guard and score an early goal, there might be a bit of self-doubt creeping in for Villa players and fans. But yet again, Villa have “New Manager Syndrome” on their side with Paul Lambert looking to get off to a good start, so we might need to be extra cautious.

It should be an interesting battle between the two sides with the added sub-plot of the return of James Collins from Aston Villa. If it goes our way, let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come, but if it doesn’t then we should use it as a learning curve for the ever-changing pace of the Premier League. If it’s a draw…let’s not go there!

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