Jon Harley scored a contender for goal of the season as Fulham edged past Aston Villa to register their first league win in three matches this afternoon.

The full-back, now a bit part player after Rufus Brevett regained his place in Jean Tigana’s starting line-up, rocketed in a sensational strike from almost 40 yards out to complete a first half turnaround after Gareth Barry had steered Graham Taylor’s side in front inside three minutes. Steed Malbranque converted a fourteenth minute penalty after Luis Boa Morte had been brought down by Joey Gudjonsson and Harley’s screamer stunned Peter Enckelman to put the Whites ahead.

Portuguese winger Boa Morte proved the difference between the two sides – with his electric pace and eclectic bag of tricks totally bamboozling Rob Edwards at right back. He switched to the right flank and promptly got Barry, who had done his England hopes no harm by opening the scoring from Villa’s first attacks, booked as Villa’s left back was unable to stop the wide man legally. The former Arsenal and Southampton man was inspired – and set up several good chances throughout for Fulham to extend their advantage.

The mood inside Fulham’s temporary Loftus Road home was markedly different at the end of an absorbing contest than it had been at the beginning. Barry sent the Villa fans into raptures by firing past Maik Taylor after racing onto a perfectly weighted pass from Dion Dublin. It didn’t take long for Malbranque to equalise from the penalty area after first Edwards and Gudjonsson tried to end another dangerous Boa Morte break and Steve Marlet should have done better than head and then shoot straight at Enckelman in quick succession.

Harley’s thunderbolt, which he unleashed from a central position from about 35 yards out as a loose ball dropped invitingly out of the air, momentarily stunned everyone inside the ground. It was struck so sweetly that Enckelman had no chance – and Fulham were much more fluent having taken the lead. Boa Morte produced a brilliant through ball that nearly found Louis Saha five minutes after the break and Malbranque drove over the bar from the edge of the box as Jean Tigana’s side threatened a third.

Villa had opportunities of their own and looked most dangerous from set plays, like the one that Andy Melville conceded after fouling the lively Darius Vassell. That set play came through to Dublin, who was denied an equaliser when Taylor repelled his strike from six yards. Substitute Peter Crouch, back on his old QPR stomping ground, came close to a late leveller when his angled drive flew wide from seventeen yards out as Fulham held on to construct a nine point cushion between themselves and the drop zone.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Harley, Goma, Melville; Davis, Djetou, Malbranque, Boa Morte (Goldbaek 83); Saha (Sava 88), Marlet (Knight 71). Subs (not used): Herrera, Inamoto.

BOOKED: Melville.

GOALS: Malbranque (pen 14), Harley (36).

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Enckelman; Edwards (Hendrie 45), Barry, Mellberg, Johnsen; Gudjonsson, Hitzlsperger (Crouch 67), Moore (de la Cruz 45), Samuel; Dublin, Vassell. Subs (not used): Postma, Staunton.

BOOKED: Barry, Gudjonsson, Edwards.

GOAL: Barry (3).

REFEREE: Steve Dunn (Avon).