A double from Liam Ridgewell helped Aston Villa salvage a point from entertaining encounter at Craven Cottage tonight as David O’Leary’s side shared six goals with Fulham.
The hosts held the lead three times but couldn’t hang on to claim all three points in an end-to-end game that saw them punished for some poor finishing. Chris Coleman’s decision to play Mark Crossley, who limped out out of the Boxing Day defeat at Chelsea with an injured, also appeared questionable as the clearly unfit goalkeeper should have done better with both of Ridgewell’s goals.
Fulham made the stronger start with Brian McBride causing problems at an early corner but Heidar Helguson couldn’t profit from Tomasz Radzinski’s cut back. Villa should gone in front in the ninth minute when a brilliant run from James Milner created a glorious chance for Luke Moore, but the young striker hammered well from right in front of goal.
McBride punished that miss with a simple header following a rapid Fulham break saw Luis Boa Morte seize possession in midfield and release Radzinski, whose cross perfectly picked out the American centre forward. Steven Davis and Wilfred Bouma both had shots blocked as Villa sought to respond straight away, but the visitors did get back on level terms just before the half hour mark. Milan Baros was allowed to drift infield and unlocked the Fulham defence with a fine pass that even Moore couldn’t fail to convert.
There was controversy when Fulham retook the lead through a penalty that initially wasn’t given by replacement referee Andy D’Urso when Mark Delaney challenged Radzinski. The Welsh defender appeared to have won the ball but the assistant referee’s flag saw D’Urso give the spot-kick and Helguson repeated his calmness from Boxing Day, waiting for Thomas Sorensen to commit himself before rolling the penalty into the opposite corner.
Gavin McCann struck a post before the break and Villa kept up the pressure afterwards with Baros looking dangerous for the visitors. They almost fell further behind when a brilliant ball from Rosenior put Helguson clear of the Villa defence but the Icelandic international carried the ball too close to Sorensen, allowing the goalkeeper to smother his shot. Fulham soon paid the penalty as Ridgewell poked a finish under the body of Crossley, who never should have been beaten at his near post, from Milner’s cutback.
It took a minute for the Whites to go back in front as McBride majestically headed a brilliant ball in beyond Sorensen. The American then headed over minutes later as Fulham went in search of a fourth – knowing that this see-saw contest was far from finished. Villa served notice of their ongoing threat with McCann having a goalbound shot blocked by Carlos Bocanegra and they grabbed a third equaliser when Ridgewell tapped home from another Milner cross with Crossley stuck on his line.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Crossley; Leacock (N. Jensen 57), Rosenior, Knight, Bocanegra; Christanval, Legwisnki (Elrich 78), Radzinski, Boa Morte; McBride, Helguson (John 84). Subs (not used): Warner, Pearce.
GOALS: McBride (13, 61), Helguson (pen 32).
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Delaney, Ridgewell, Bouma (Bakke 76); Milner, McCann, Davis, Barry; Baros, Moore (Angel 70). Subs (not used): Taylor, Whittingham, Gardner.
BOOKED: Baros, Moore, Hughes, Ridgewell.
GOALS: Moore (29), Ridgewell (60, 76).
REFEREE: Andy D’Urso (Essex).