Villa again sacrificed two points against Fulham after leading twice at Villa Park and twice allowing Fulham to equalise. Both of the visitors goals could have been prevented by Friedel who had one of his worse games of the season, first parrying Sidwell’s effort straight to Johnson and second coming and missing from a Murphy corner for compatriot Dempsey to head home. Villa picked up an early lead after a delicious outside of the boot cross from Downing was inadvertently headed into his own net by John Paintsil. The winger was Villa’s outstanding player with numerous great deliveries and passes to set up attacks. Bent had earlier had a goal disallowed in a marginal but correct decision after a Downing shot was kept out by Schwarzer. Loan signing Kyle Walker gave Villa a 2-1 lead after Fulham had equalised, bursting past Sidwell on the halfway line and firing in a low 35-yard drive past Schwarzer. The goal deserved to win any game but Villa paid the price, as they did at Fulham for complacency and not closing out the result in what is a poor one for Villa giving their two-time lead and Fulham’s woeful away record.
Villa lined up with Gabby Agbonlahor back in the side for Marc Albrighton on the right representing the only change from the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United. In the opening half it was Villa’s wide men which proved the difference with full-backs Paintsil and Baird not at the races for much of the opening 45.
A decent start to the match saw the first real chance end up in the back of the net from Darren Bent on 5 minutes but the poacher was judged, correctly, to be half a yard offside. Villa’s best player in the opening half was probably Downing cutting in from the right and terrorising Baird. The winger did exactly that and produced a decent shot from the edge of the box which was kept out by Schwarzer. The Aussie keeper could only push the ball out to the opportunistic as ever run of Bent who tapped home only for the goal to be ruled out.
The disallowed goal proved the spark for the home side who constantly pressed the Fulham attack with Dunne and Collins easily dealing with long balls up to Andy Johnson. Makoun was impressive at United and continued his form, orchestrating the play with consummate ease from the centre of the park. It was the Cameroonian’s superb vision which picked out Downing on the right who again cut inside and delivered a delicious ball with the outside of his boot. Decent pressure from Agbonlahor at the back post saw Paintsil head across his own goalkeeper and into his own net for the third time this season giving Villa a deserved lead.
Fulham looked to get back in the game and their best two efforts came from Villa old-boy Steve Sidwell who had two strikes from outside the box, one of which swerved and almost deceived Friedel though the American claimed at the second attempt. The second saw the midfielder fail to be closed down and drive a yard wide with his left foot.
Stiliyan Petrov gave away possession in a dangerous position presenting Dembele with an opportunity to pick out Duff outside the box but his dragged shot was blocked.
Villa’s other chances were rare but a couple of times there was slightly too much pace on the final ball through the middle to the willing runs of Bent with the striker looking lively. Other than that two free-kicks in decent positions were both struck at the wall by Downing, the second of which rebounded to Makoun who lashed his volley way, way wide. Entertaining first 45!
A decent start for Villa in the second half saw Agbonlahor fire an effort straight at Schwarzer after cutting in from the left. Bent then lashed well wide on his left foot with an early strike.
Sidwell has another effort from the edge of the box which is deflected wide for a corner but the former Villa man is being given far too much time to strike and makes his old club pay minutes later when his well hit drive is parried straight out in front by Friedel who should have done far better and former Blue Andy Johnson improvises well after reacting first to bounce his header over the stranded veteran stopper.
Ashley Young then tried to slip through Bent who was making space between the Fulham centre backs but again the ball was slightly too strong and forced Bent wide onto his left with his effort blocked. The resulting corner was cleared and worked to the right side of the pitch to Downing who delivered another great cross for Clark who headed at Hangeland when in acres of space. Should have scored.
A neat decoy run from Bent allowed Agbonlahor to slip in Young but he was closed down by Baird and forced to strike first time, slicing his effort well wide. Villa continued to press for another and a neat flick over the substitute Salcido by Makoun, who began to tire and make a few errors, found Downing whose touch was sublime before cutting inside, as ever, but he blazed his shot too high.
Villa began to look out of ideas and it took a bit of magic from loan signing Walker, who was hit and miss with his crossing. The right back picked the ball up on the halfway line before bursting past Sidwell and launching a low drive from 35-yards into the far left corner and out of the reach of the sprawling Schwarzer.
Slack play at the back from Villa allowed Fulham back in the game and Petrov, who was too casual on various occasions, was so once again from a Clark pass in field. The Villa captain made a poor challenge on Sidwell, who to his credit, got straight to his feet, otherwise it could have been worse than a yellow for the Bulgarian.
The resulting free-kick was flicked behind for a corner by Walker and Villa were made to pay from a set piece as they were in the return fixture. A Murphy corner found Dempsey who met the ball before his flailing compatriot Brad Friedel who left his goal open to his peril. 2-2 and not a good day for big Brad after a man of the match display against United.
Villa tried to force the issue and after a sustained run of pressure threw on Albrighton for the booked Petrov and Heskey for the fading Agbonlahor. Despite having much of the ball Villa failed to create and Fulham looked dangerous on the break. It was the visitors who had the best chance to snatch all three points when breaking. Murphy ran at the defence from midfield and picked out Johnson in the box who cut inside before firing at Friedel who saved well. Not enough to atone for his earlier errors in both Fulham goals though and another two points dropped against the Cottagers, notoriously poor away from home. Poor result!
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 5 – at fault to some degree in both goals, late save prevented a 4!
Kyle Walker – 7 – great goal and ventures forward well, hairy moments, crossing needs to improve
James Collins – 6 – good enough, not backed by his keeper
Richard Dunne – 6 – solid and dependable, same as Collins
Ciaran Clark – 6 – assured and confident on the ball, a few minor errors
Stewart Downing – 8 – constant threat and sublime assist for first, Villa’s best
Jean Makoun – 7 – great first half but tired in second towards end
Stiliyan Petrov – 5 – lost possession too many times, could have been sent off, bring in Reo-Coker
Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 – decent start but doesn’t get involved from the wing
Ashley Young – 6 – quiet and ineffective, a few over-hit final balls for Bent
Darren Bent – 7 – made space with excellent runs, unfortunate to be half yard offside for disallowed goal
Marc Albrighton – no time, should have been brought on sooner
Emile Heskey – no time, no impact
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