Jordan Ayew sees red as Aston Villa slump to defeat at West Ham
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.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Nar good shout, it's just crazy behavior? The situation villa are in and he acts like that #weakmentality" - Former West Ham winger Trevor Sinclair (@trevor8sinclair) appears far from impressed by Jordan Ayew's red card.
James Tomkins: 6
Winston Reid: 6
James Collins: 7
Aaron Cresswell: 6
Alex Song: 7
Cheikhou Kouyate: 7
Michail Antonio: 7
Mark Noble: 8
Dimitri Payet: 6
Enner Valencia: 7
Victor Moses: 6
Nikica Jelavic: 6
Pedro Obiang: 6
Mark Bunn: 7
Micah Richards: 7
Jores Okore: 6
Joleon Lescott: 6
Aly Cissokho: 6
Idrissa Gana-Gueye: 6
Carles Gil: 6
Jordan Veretout: 6
Gabby Agbonlahor: 6
Jordan Ayew: 3
Kieran Richardson: 6
Scott Sinclair: 5
Mark Noble. The Hammers skipper returned to the side after a bout of flu and totally bossed the midfield. Wonderful cross-field pass set up Antonio's opening goal.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
From a Villa corner, Payet's deft touch on the edge of West Ham's area found Valencia, who got on his bike. Seconds later the ball was in Villa's net via the boot of Kouyate. Game over.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Patience was the name of the game for the Hammers, who did not panic and go more direct, and got their reward in the end. Villa started with two up front in Agbonlahor and Ayew, but that plan soon went out of the window.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Who knows what Ayew was thinking when, with 16 minutes gone and his team actually on top, the forward decided to swing his elbow into Cresswell's face, earning a red card and leaving his struggling side in the lurch. Brainless.
WHO'S UP NEXT
Southampton v West Ham (Barclays Premier League, February 6)
Aston Villa v Norwich (Barclays Premier League, February 6)
Villa manager Remi Garde admitted Jordan Ayew's "stupid" red card left his side with a mountain to climb but felt they should have been awarded a penalty before the dismissal.
The Frenchman, who refused to comment on speculation about his future, told BT Sport: "It was a big mountain for 10 men today, but we started well today in the game.
"We have been denied a penalty, I have to say it, because it's the third in a row and it's a lot for a team like us, when you're at the bottom everything is against you.
"I'm sorry for the ref, but you know it was a clear penalty.
"It was in the time when we were well in the game. We started very well but without this penalty, and this stupid red card, the game was over.
"I feel very sorry for the guys to be beaten 2-0 today after the bravery that they showed."
West Ham boss Slaven Bilic said of Ayew's dismissal: "The game was not decided by the red card but it affected the game a lot."
Bilic was also impressed with the way his side performed with a man more, pointing out that having a numerical advantage does not always mean a win is guaranteed.
He added: "We played very well. I've seen it a lot that the team that has one more man on the pitch doesn't score, and even concedes, but we were very professional.
"Of course until you score the first goal you are a little bit nervous. We could have scored before but we scored a great goal and after that it was easier and we played some great football.
"After we score the second goal it was over. I have nothing but praise for the players."