Darius Vassell and Ian Taylor scored the goals that fired Aston Villa up to fourth into the Premiership after a comfortable win over Fulham at Villa Park this afternoon.

John Gregory’s side put the contest to bed within fifteen minutes of the start of the second half. Vassell plundered his fifth goal of the season five minutes after the interval by finishing a flowing team move from close range before Taylor celebrated his first appearance of the campaign by guiding home a Juan Pablo Angel pass to but the game beyond Jean Tigana’s visitors. A miserable afternoon for the Whites was compounded by a late penalty miss from Louis Saha – which left his manager bemoaning a lack of a killer instinct in the eighteen yard box afterwards.

Steve Marlet replaced the SW6 derby hero Barry Hayles in attack and very nearly lived up to his promise to break his goalscoring duck in the first ten minutes. The French forward left Alpay for dead as he sprinted to reach a through ball from Steed Malbranque but shot into the side netting. Malbranque then failed to test the Danish goalkeeper after being sent clear by Sylvain Legwinski, before Schmeichel pulled off a fine stop to deny Marlet his goal from Steve Finnan’s clipped cross.

The home side belatedly sprang to life. George Boateng got the better of Sean Davis to shoot agonisingly wide and the dangerous Vassell probably should have done better than miss the target entirely after bustling into the box. The lively striker made amends five minutes after the break, however, tucking home a terrific cross from Mustapha Hadji after good build up play from Lee Hendrie and Angel.

Villa began to play with real confidence and quickly doubled their lead. Angel was not closed down by the retreating Fulham rearguard as he approached the penalty area and he waited before picking out the well-timed run of Taylor, who slipped a shot past an already committed van der Sar. Fulham made a late push for a route back into the contest with substitute Luis Boa Morte earning a penalty after he was fouled, but Saha screwed the spot-kick wastefully wide.

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Stone, Alpay, Staunton, Wright; Hadji, Hendrie, Boateng, Kachloul (I. Taylor 15); Angel (Balaban 62), Vassell. Subs (not used): Enckelman, Barry, Ginola.

BOOKED: Hadji.

GOALS: Vassell (50), I. Taylor (61).

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Knight (Goma 65); Davis (Hayles 66), Collins, Legwinski, Malbranque; Saha, Marlet (Boa Morte 66). Subs (not used): M. Taylor, Clark.

BOOKED: Davis.

REFEREE: Paul Durkin (Dorset).