Football fans are notoriously fickle. Just after Charles N’Zogbia had won a dangerous free-kick down the Aston Villa left, the Villa Park faithful got to their feet and voiced their displeasure at Alex McLeish’s decision to replace the largely ineffectual winger with young striker Andreas Weimann. The beleaguered Villa boss could certainly afford a smile at the young Austrian’s decisive impact in injury-time as he bundled home his first Premier League goal to give the home side a vital win they barely deserved.
It was, therefore, an inglorious end to Fulham’s run of three straight wins. Whilst Villa enjoyed most of the possession in a first half that simmered along pretty serenely, Mark Schwarzer wasn’t terribly troubled. The Australian veteran, who should have done better than palm Gary Gardiner’s speculative shot into Weimman’s path for the winner, easily gathered a header from Marc Albrighton. It was Gabby Agbonlahor, Villa’s lone striker, who looked most likely to break the deadlock, and then produced a fine reaction save to deny the England striker after he profited from a loose Danny Murphy pass.
Fulham barely threatened on the counter attack. Pavel Pogrebnyak hardly had a kick, let alone a shot, and their best openings came courtesy of Andy Johnson, booed throughout by the Villa fans who haven’t forgotten his previous connections with the blue half of Birmingham, who operated in from a deeper, left wing position. Twice, Johnson cut in onto his right foot. Shay Given easily smothered his first shot, but on the second occasion, Fulham should have scored. With Villa waiting for Murphy to tap a free-kick short to tee up a John Arne Riise thunderbolt, the Fulham skipper switched the angle of attack and Johnson’s low cross eluded both the stretching Pogrebnyak and Clint Dempsey, whose late burst into the box proved in vain.
Fulham were forced into two changes with Murphy angered by a first-half clash with Stephen Ireland’s elbow, which necessitation his half-time replaced by Mahamadou Diarra. Johnson limped off midway through the second period, by which time Martin Jol’s side might already have been ahead. Damien Duff, preferred once again to Bryan Ruiz, showed exactly why with several dangerous low cross, one of which missed Pogrebnyak by mere millimetres. The Irish winger the nearly applied the perfect finish to another flowing move crashing a volley against the top of the near post from ten yards after being found by Riise, who also fired fractionally wide from long-range.
Villa struck the woodwork themselves when Albrighton rattled the frame of the goal after a clever cut-back from the mercurial Stephen Ireland, but most of the 32,000-crowd had already long since headed for the exits by the time the home side delivered their knock-out blow. Gardner, himself a stoppage-time substitute for Stiliyan Petrov, hit a speculative shot through the crowd from 25 yards that Schwarzer failed to gather and with the Fulham defence statesque as they appealed for offside, in nipped Weimann to scramble home a scrappy winner at the second attempt.
ASTON VILLA (4-5-1): Given; Hutton, Warnock, Collins, Cuellar; Petrov (G. Gardner 90), Herd (Bannan 82), Ireland, N’Zogbia (Weimann 72), Albrighton; Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Guzan, Lichaj, Baker, Heskey.
BOOKED: Petrov, Herd.
GOAL: Weimann (90+4).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Murphy (Diarra 45), Dembele; Dempsey, Duff, Johnson (Ruiz 67); Pogrebnyak. Subs: Stockdale, Baird, Etuhu, Davies, Sa.
REFEREE: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire).