Once again, a bright start on our travels and an early lead extinguished by a late goal. Although we’ve only played two away games – and they were against Arsenal and Aston Villa – they both have had a depressing ring of inevitability about them. Fulham were plucky, adventurous even, before being brought back down to earth with an almighty thump.
Lawrie Sanchez’s side once again made the early running and the signs looked positive when Clint Dempsey reacted quickest after Diomansy Kamara’s through ball fell in an inviting position, thrashing the loose ball beyond Scott Carson. Fulham should have had a penalty midway through the first half when Craig Garnder clearly handled Kamara’s goalbound shot. Steve Bennett was unmoved by the away side’s appeals – and it was actually Martin O’Neill who found himself in hot water, sent to the stands for haranging the referee at half time.
A restless Villa, searching for their first home win since February, took a long time to settle. When they did fashion openings, the finishing was tame. John Carew, whose infamously failed Fulham medical spelt the end of a strained relationship between Mohamed Al-Fayed and Jean Tigana a few years ago, shot weakly at Kasey Keller and thumped a header against the bar.
Luke Moore, newly introduced at the start of the second period, drove an effort just wide but as Villa began to control possession, Fulham remained a threat on the break. Kamara wriggled clear but his low shot came back off the far post with Carson beaten. Perhaps that was the indication that it jusn’t going to be our day. Ashley Young had been tormenting Chris Baird for most of the afternoon and he skinned the Northern Ireland international on his way into the box. The young winger deserved all the credit, but Zat Knight was horribly exposed, helping Young’s cross-cum-shot into his own goal.
The equaliser meant all the momentum was with the hosts. Fulham gamely tried to cling on with Keller saving superbly from Moore, and Carew missing a good chace, but they could only hold on for so long. Their cause wasn’t helped when Baird was dismissed for a second yellow card, although Young was upset with the intial award of the free-kick, which he sent over, as the former Watford winger had gone on to beat Keller.
It took Villa until the very last minute to make their dominance pay. Gareth Barry had already seen a goal chalked off for offside, but there was no doubting the legitmacy of the winner. Maloney galloped onto Young’s glorious through ball and calmly beat Keller.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Carson; Gardner, Bouma (Maloney 83), Larsson, Mellberg; Petrov (Moore 45), Reo-Coker, Young, Barry; Carew (Harewood 77), Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Taylor, Cahill.
GOALS: Knight (o.g. 51), Maloney (90).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller; Baird, Konchesky, Knight (Pearce 56), Bocanegra; Smertin, Davis, Dempsey, Davies; Kamara (Volz 59), Healy (John 65). Subs (not used): Warner, Diop.
BOOKED: Baird, Kamara.
SENT OFF: Baird (58).
GOAL: Dempsey (6).
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Kent)