Goals from Gary Gardner, Graham Burke and Samir Carruthers condemned Fulham’s reserves to defeat at Aston Villa in their latest Premier Reserve League South fixture this afternoon.
The second string had the opportunity to go top of the table with a win but Ray Lewington endured a difficult start to life in charge of the reserves after swapping roles with Billy McKinlay last week as a strong Villa side were dominant from the off at Bodymoor Heath. It was the home side who consolidated their position at the top of the league with a display of fluid attacking football that would have impressed the watching Alex McLeish as several potential first-teamers turned in strong performances. Had it not been for some fine goalkeeping from Csaba Somogyi, Villa’s victory margin could have been significantly greater.
The Hungarian held onto an early header from Andreas Weimann and then fielded long-range attempts from Gardner, Carruthers and Burke before doing superbly to save with his legs from Burke after a Daniel Johnson effort had come back off the post. In response, Fulham managed a solitary shot from Marcello Trotta and their overworked defence, featuring new signing Jack Grimmer, finally cracked seven minutes before the break. A cleverly-worked free-kick was tapped by Barry Bannan into the path of Gardner, who drove clinically into the bottom corner from just outside the box.
Fulham were fortunate to just be a goal down at the interval and had struggled to impose themselves on the contest – perhaps unsettled by the early departure of Tom Donegan due to injury. The ex-Everton midfielder, who was replaced midway through the first half by Josh Passley, had a brace applied to his knee and could be out for some time. Lewington’s start did make a bright start to the second half, though, with new arrival Ryan Williams striking the post with a cross-cum-shot.
Villa were also threatening and a sweeping move involving Carruthers and Johnson saw Weimnan also rattle the woodwork. The home side’s full-backs swapped flanks and the move paid off in an instant. Eric Lichaj cut in from the left onto his favoured right foot and his rising drive drew a fine save from Somogyi, but the reprieve was short-lived. Irish youth international Burke scored a splendid second eleven minutes after the break when he surged past three defenders after collecting the ball on the edge of the box and coolly slotted past the goalkeeper.
A more convincing look to the scoreline came with Villa’s third thirteen minutes later. Enda Stevens’ fine run and cross found Carruthers, who had enough time to take the ball down and fire past the helpless goalkeeper. Calum Barrett saved twice from Trotta as Fulham went in search as a consolation goal but Villa might have extended their lead in the closing stages, with Burke and Weimann kept out by the excellent Somogyi.
Lewington will be hoping for far better from his charges when they return to action at Chelsea on Monday 20th February.
ASTON VILLA RESERVES (4-4-2): Barrett, Lichaj, Williams, Baker, Stevens; Carruthers, Gardner (Cameron 59), Bannan (Caira 89), Johnson; Burke (Drennan 77), Weimann. Subs (not used): Nelson-Addy, Watkins.
GOALS: Gardner (38), Burke (56), Carruthers (69).
FULHAM RESERVES (4-4-2): Somogyi; Grimmer, Kavanagh, Harris, Burn; Minkwitz, Donegan (Passley 26), Frei, Williams (Banga 66); Dalla Valle, Trotta. Subs (not used): Smith, Bettache, Woodrow.