Aston Villa 0 West Ham 1: Steven Gerrard’s side booed off as Hammers get first win and goal of season as Fornals nets

PABLO FORNALS finally provided lift-off for West Ham’s Premier League season – after a countdown which lasted an agonising 344 minutes!

It wasn’t the greatest goal the little Spaniard has scored for the Hammers and it’s unlikely to be the best he will bag this season – but it was West Ham’s first goal of the season after drawing a blank in their first three games.

Pablo Fornals scored a deflected winner to move West Ham out of the relegation zone

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Pablo Fornals scored a deflected winner to move West Ham out of the relegation zoneCredit: PA
Fornals' strike was West Ham's first Premier League goal of the season

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Fornals’ strike was West Ham’s first Premier League goal of the seasonCredit: Getty
Pressure is mounting on Steven Gerrard as his side were booed off at full-time

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Pressure is mounting on Steven Gerrard as his side were booed off at full-timeCredit: Reuters

Any sore losers in the Aston Villa camp will point out it arrived with the help of a massively fortuitous deflection off Ezri Konsa’s lunging leg, which sent the ball spinning over the helpless Emi Martinez as it looped under his bar.

But none of that mattered to Fornals and nine of his mates as they sprinted off to celebrate wildly in front of their joyous fans, with only Lukasz Fabianski remaining in his own half.

Now their season can finally begin for real!

As for Villa, Steven Gerrard’s side remain on the starting grid waiting for something … anything to inspire them.

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They may have picked up three points in their last home game against Everton but it’s been small consolation to their fans who booed them off at the end and are fed up with excuses.

This had such a familiar feeling as did their slayer Fornals, who had scored in both games against them last season.

Davie Moyes switched to a back four at half-time to get more out of his team but Gerrard increasingly looks like a man bereft of ideas.

Villa had lost their last four league games against West Ham on the spin and had only beaten them once in their last dozen games – seven years ago.

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So the last thing Gerrard needed, hours before kick-off, was to lose one half of his defensive duo when England international Tyrone Mings dropped out of his squad due to illness.

Uncertainty at the back has been a feature of Villa’s erratic start to the season and it’s not difficult to work out why.

Incredibly, this was Gerrard’s fifth different centre-half pairing in five games this season as he continued to wrestle with his options at the back.

Sevilla’s experienced Brazilian Diego Carlos was recruited for £26million but tore his Achilles and will be out for around six months, which pretty much summed up his recent luck.

Unfortunately for Gerrard the trend continued as he thought his side had got off to a flyer here, only to see a brilliantly choreographed corner routine turn to dust.

Ollie Watkins and the recalled Philippe Coutinho had started brightly up front and Watkins came close after he dipped a shoulder to cut inside Jan Kehrer and smashed in a shot which flew off Kurt Zouma for a corner.

Lucas Digne’s delivery had plenty of pace and whip and Coutinho stole in at the near post to crash a point-blank header off the upright.

The ball rebounded across the face of goal where Ezri Konsa reacted first to stab it home from a yard out.

But eagle-eyed linesman Timothy Wood raised his flag in an instant after spotting something was amiss.

And VAR confirmed his theory that Digne’s delivery had indeed strayed a fraction beyond the touchline before curling back in to find Coutinho’s forehead.

If every official’s eyesight was that good there would never have been any need for VAR!

Villa continued to knock on the door and Coutinho dug out another brilliant cross but Watkins’ back-post header looped into Fabianski’s waiting gloves.

Moyes had handed a Hammers debut to Emerson, his new signing from Chelsea, and Gianluca Scamacca was rewarded for his Europa Conference heroics with a first Premier League start.

But the £30million Italian international striker’s biggest contribution in a lopsided first half was to desperately head a Douglas Luiz delivery away for another corner as Villa tried to prise a way through.

Coutinho fizzed in a shot which dipped in front of Fabianski but the Polish keeper handled it expertly before Villa skipper John McGinn blazed wildly over on the stroke of half-time.

Moyes hadn’t been helped when Ben Johnson was forced off with a thigh injury and was replaced by Vladimir Coufal.

But his hopes of getting Jarred Bowen and Fornals on the front foot had backfired badly and his team had sunk deeper and deeper.

Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek were operating as midfield minders in front of a back five and it was clear the Hammers wouldn’t open their Premier League account for the season this way.

Moyes knew he had work to do and it was a case of last-in, first-out for Emerson who was replaced by Said Benrahma at the break as the Hammers boss switched to a back-four.

Suddenly it was Villa’s makeshift defence which was on the back foot as Bowen, Benrahma and Fornals surged forward to support Scamacca.

John McGinn lost his footing and almost the opening goal too when Fornals pounced on his misfortune to send Bowen away.

The England forward chopped inside Calum Chambers but was denied by a sensational sliding tackle as Digne saved the day.

Scamacca’s last action, before being replaced by Michail Antonio, was a low shot which Martinez saved with ease.

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Villa’s injury curse struck again when Coutinho tweaked his left hamstring and Gerrard tried to inject some life in his team sending on Emi Buendia and Jacob Ramsey, with Leon Bailey arriving later.

But it was to be Fornals who broke the deadlock … and the Hammers’ Prem goal jinx.

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