One thing really annoyed me today. The booing at half time and full time. A lot of it came from people around me, who had mostly sat on their hands, refusing to join in any singing, and only opened their mouths to barrack their own players. I know Fulham have lost a few in a row, but we still are in a good position in the table, with a run of winnable home games in front of us, and the injury situation makes Roy Hodgson’s job particularly difficult.
Take today, for example. Stephen Kelly came in at left back but the successful defence of last season has been rearranged. Brede Hangeland doesn’t look as commanding without Aaron Hughes alongside and Chris Smalling was all too easily outjumped by Gabriel Agbonlahor for the first goal. Hughes is no right back, but he gave it his best against two very quick wingers and we missed the surging forward runs of Pantsil and Konchesky.
There’s no shame in losing to Aston Villa, who could very easily nick a Champions’ League spot if they repeat this level of performance. The likes of James Milner, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing had Fulham’s midfield tracking back rather than threatening Brad Friedel’s goal, although Hodgson’s planning was made redundant after Simon Davies injured himself in shooting on goal in a low-key opening. The Welshman forced a good from Brad Friedel but had to come off after colliding with James Collins just after he had fired on goal. Fulham’s football lacked their usual spark but they did manage to apply some late pressure on Friedel’s goal. Carlos Cuellar had to be alert to prevent Bobby Zamora from latching onto a fine through ball from Chris Baird and Danny Murphy’s deflected shot was parried by the Villa goalkeeper.
The damage was done in three minutes at the end of the first half, although O’Neill’s side could have been ahead before that – Luke Young’s cute header was creeping under the crossbar until Mark Schwarzer intervened. Both goals came in quick succession down the right, showing how much Hodgson was ruing the injury Konchesky picked up at Blackburn.
Fulham were slow to shut down Stiliyan Petrov down the right and Agbonlahor headed home at the near post. Smalling might have received a push in the back as he challenged for the ball, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Sir Alex Ferguson will be wanting him to stronger than that at Old Trafford next season. Still recovering from the shock of going behind, Fulham’s task got all that more difficult when Hangeland got the wrong side of Agbonlahor and the striker’s deft curler left Schwarzer clutching at air. Agbonlahor’s celebrations might have irritated the Hammersmith End, but the game seemed up for Fulham.
The home side did at least put up a spirited second half showing. For all their possession, they perhaps should have tested Friedel more. The American pulled off a fine reaction save from Zoltan Gera and susbstitute David Elm was cruelly denied a first goal for the club when his impressive volley was ruled out by an offside flag. Elm, increasing looking like an intriguing proposition up front, might have got his goal a little later were it not for a fine saving challenge from Richard Dunne.
Portsmouth on Wednesday now becomes a massive game. Another defeat could see us start looking over our shoulders.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Hughes, Kelly (Riise 75), Hangeland, Smalling; Baird, Murphy, S. Davies (Gera 25); Zamora, Nevland (Elm 66). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Dikgacoi, Greening.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, L. Young, Dunne, Collins; Petrov, Milner, A. Young, Downing; Heskey, Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Guzan, C. Davies, Shorey, Beye, Sidwell, Delph, Delfouneso.
BOOKED: Heskey, L. Young.
GOALS: Agbonlahor (40, 44).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Bolton).