This wasn’t the sort of evening Chris Coleman would have envisaged. Instead of building on an impressive victory over Tottenham last weekend, Fulham led a dream start go to waste, losing an early lead, having Carlos Bocanegra sent off for a horror tackle and losing to Aston Villa – with the threat of further sanctions from the FA after a bottle was thrown at an assistant referee.
All that acrimony seemed scarcely possible when Luis Boa Morte lashed the Whites in front after just 52 seconds. But Fulham never really recovered from the shock of a bad error from Edwin van der Sar, who gifted Juan Pablo Angel the simplest of equalisers when he failed to gather the Villa striker’s tame initial shot. Darius Vassell then seized the opportunity to remind the watching Tord Grip of his international credentials by poaching the winner after Fulham’s defence unforgivably left him attended to head in Thomas Hitzlsperger’s cross.
Worse was to follow for Fulham when American defender Bocanegra was shown a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Mark Delaney, with his wild, two-footed lunge leaving the Villa man on a stretcher. A furious David O’Leary had to be held back by the fourth official and his own backroom staff as he remonstrated on the touchline – and there could be no defence of the tackle. The red card effectively ended Fulham’s hopes of an equaliser, although Brian McBride battered the crossbar in stoppage time as the home side pushed for a late leveller.
Fulham had made the perfect start when Lee Clark steered a ball down the left wing and Boa Morte, in excellent form of late, burst away from Olaf Mellberg and surprised Thomas Sorensen with an early shot that flew into the far corner. The Portugese winger’s first league goal in fourth months was an absolute peach.
But Villa were far from rattled. Lee Hendrie almost equalised with a powerful drive of his own and O’Leary’s side were level eleven minutes later. Fulham failed to defend Hitzlsperger’s inswinging free-kick and Angel stole a march on Martin Djetou to stab a shot goalwards. It looked straightforward for van der Sar but the Dutch goalkeeper batted the ball into the turf inside of collecting it and Angel squeezed the home rebound from three yards. The experienced van der Sar did partially redeem himself with a superb save to deny Nolberto Solano seven minutes later, but Vassell powered Villa in front just after the half hour having been offered the freedom of Shepherd’s Bush inside the Fulham area.
Fulham almost found an equaliser right on half-time when Boa Morte conjured up a deep cross from the left and Sean Davis’ improvised flick almost outwitted Sorensen. Malbranque nearly brought Fulham level in fortuitous circumstances midway through the second half when his cross deflected off Delaney’s boot and nearly looped over Sorensen, but Bocanegra’s moment of madness stalled any momentum that the home side had built up.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Bocanegra, Knight, Pearce; Djetou (Hayles 70), Davis, Clark (Petta 45); Malbranque, Boa Morte, McBride. Subs (not used): Crossley, Legwinski, Inamoto.
BOOKED: Davis, Knight.
SENT OFF: Bocanegra.
GOAL: Boa Morte (1).
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Sorensen; Delaney (de la Cruz 77), Samuel, Mellberg, Johnsen; Hitzlsperger, Barry (Whittingham 80), Solano, Hendrie (Ridgewell 89); Vassell, Angel. Subs (not used): Postma, Crouch.
GOALS: Angel (12), Vassell (32)
REFEREE: Barry Knight (Kent).