Kieran Richardson fires in an early shot against Aston Villa

It might not have been a vintage Fulham performance that saw Martin Jol’s side scrape past Aston Villa yesterday afternoon, but the manager himself made a point of mentioning how pleased he was with the three points. After the concession of three successive last-gasp goals (only one of which, at Wigan) didn’t cost the Whites any points, it was doubly pleasing that Chris Baird’s timely near post raid to meet a scuffed John Arne Riise corner delivered some late cheer. The most positive point must be that there’s some genuinely titantic battles for places in the Fulham side these days and the squad arguably looks as strong as it has ever been.

Schwarzer: The Australian managed his first clean sheet since turning 40 and organised the Fulham defence excellently. Aston Villa didn’t test him too much but Schwarzer saved well from Agbonlahor and Holman. Just as importantly, the goalkeeper’s swift and varied distribution released Fulham’s raiding full-backs quickly to turn defence into attack. 7

Riether: Arguably the man of the match. The loanee has done little wrong since arriving almost unheralded from Cologne in the summer and after creating both goals at Southampton, he was an effective outlet down the right again here. One attacking burst into the box created an early chance for Kieran Richardson and Riether was eager to overlap like Riise on the other side, without sacrificing his defensive diligence. 8

Riise: With Riether offering an offensive outlet, Jol’s indulgence of Riise’s attacking instinct suddenly doesn’t leave the defence looking lobsided. The Norwegian’s lung-busting runs down the flank presented several opportunities for Fulham to switch the play and stretch Villa’s disciplined defence, which was badly needed since the Whites sorely missed Duff’s genuine width. His two scuffed corners weren’t the greatest, but one of them – meant for Chris Baird’s head at the near post – ended up creating the winner in any case. 7

Hangeland: Far more assured than at St. Mary’s thirteen days ago but that was always likely to be the case as Darren Bent doesn’t have the stature to make life uncomfortable physically for Hangeland like a Lambert or Carroll. He sent a first half header over from a corner and also carried the ball forward before finding Berbatov with a low ball beginning a move that fashioned a chance for Baird. 7

Hughes: Solid rather spectacular against his old club but this has been a week to remember for the understated defender after he marked Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game on his 100th cap as Northern Ireland claimed an outstanding point in Portugal. In his more favoured central defensive role, Hughes nullified the threat posed by Gabby Agbonlahor and Bent with his usual quiet efficiency. 7

Baird: Excellent again in central midfield – doing a lot of the hod-carrying to ensure that the likes of Delph, El Ahmadi, Ireland and Holman were unable to get their passing patterns going as Villa would have liked. Baird has threatened to score with his head from set plays in recent weeks and his late near post dart took him past Lichaj, Delph and Bennett to clip home Riise’s flag-kick on his 150th appearance for Fulham. 7

Sidwell: The preview pieces this week touched on how Steve Sidwell feared last season’s injury nightmare might mean he had to hang up his boots. He’s returned to the side this season with a desire to make up for lost time but he will be a little disappointed not to have made more of an impression against his old club. Sent a free header over from Rodallega’s first half free-kick and threatened to clear the Hammersmith End with one speculative strike from the edge of the box after the break, but gave the ball away carelessly and mistimed a few tackles. 6

Richardson: Got the opportunity to start largely on the back of how he changed the game at St. Mary’s a fortnight ago as a second half substitute. Might have grabbed a second goal in as many gaps were it not for Guzan’s great early reactions and always showed for possession, drifting infield more than a conventional winger. Faded as the second half went on – but Richardson’s an excellent technician who will prove a real asset this season. 6

Rodallega: Covered an awful lot of ground and looked far more effective when switched to a more central role once Petric was replaced after an hour. His pace poses a problem for defenders in behind and he’ll feel he should have tested Guzan with a first half header similar to one with which he scored at Wigan. Often found himself in dangerous areas – but was well marshalled by the Villa defence. 6

Berbatov: Played in the ‘number ten’ position again and was Fulham’s creative hub. Deep in conversation with Sidwell before the start of the game, it was Berbatov who was prompting and cajoling his team-mates. Might have had a couple of goals on another afternoon – after seeing an early sighter pushed away by Guzan and failing to properly connect with an acrobatic volley in the second half – but his ability to retain possession in tight situations and create space for others make him both indiviudally outstanding and a huge asset to this side. 7

Petric: Some of the Croatian’s link-up play with Berbatov was sublime, even if the duo were perhaps guilty of overplaying things on the edge of the Villa box at times. Petric clearly still isn’t 100% fit and isn’t the ideal lone striker, but he showcased his sublime touch and did very well in the air against two taller centre backs. A few more fitness sessions and some match sharpness should see him return to the form that saw him enjoy such an excellent start to life in England. 6


Diarra: Such a welcome return for the Malian, who added both physicality and a dynamism that was previously lacking in central midfield. Looked untroubled by his time on the sidelines and immediately picked up the pace of the game, retaining possession with ridiculous ease, and shielding the back four brilliantly. On this display, he must be in line to start at Reading next weekend. Loved the way he vaulted onto Karagounis’ shoulders to celebrate Baird’s winner. 7

Dejagah: The Iranian winger had been waiting a long time for his Fulham debut and this was a really eye-catching cameo. He relished running at a tiring defence and was really unfortunate not to open the scoring, seeing one shot blocked and another just about turned over the bar by Guzan. He’s got pace, power and good crossing ability – which all bodes well. 8

Karagounis: Sent on for Sidwell for the final six minutes so didn’t have enough time to reprise his excellent display as a second half substitute at Southampton. Might not have the legs to maintain his high-octane performances for a full ninety minutes, but he’s a useful option from the bench. 6