Fulham began their pre-season programme with an impressive 3-1 victory over Premier League Aston Villa in Portugal this evening.
Kit Symons named an experimental side for his first summer friendly fixture and a number of players who might previously have been considered on the fringes of the first-team picture did more than enough to give the manager pause for thought. Fulham began brightly with Alex Kacaniklic and Thomas Eisfeld, who spent the second half of last season out on loan at Bochum, featuring prominently down the flanks. It was the former Arsenal midfielder who supplied the cross that led to Fulham’s opening goal, his cross causing consternation in the Villa box and Matt Smith improvised cleverly to lift an instinctive finish over Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer.
Kacaniklic, who was reintroduced to the first team picture by Symons having been sent out on on loan by previous manager Felix Magath, looked in the mood to impress, perhaps having been stirred by the prospect of serious competition for his place in the shape of new signing Ben Pringle. He had earlier miscued a shot wide having burst into the box down the left and then cut a dangerous ball back for Cauley Woodrow, only for the England under-21 international’s shot to be bravely blocked at source by Nathan Baker. Eisfield, who operated on the opposite flank, showed a desire to get forward and plenty of clever touches, with one swift break culminating in a deflected shot that was comfortably held by Steer.
As the first half wore on, Villa began to come back into the contest. Liam Donnelly, who had began impressively reprising the midfield role he had operated in towards the end of last season for the under-21 side, was forced off injured after feeling the effects of a fierce challenge by Villa’s new signing Micah Richards. It was the England international who came closest for Tim Sherwood’s side – directing a header wide from a corner. Carles Gil represented Villa’s most dangerous threat, roaming with intent from central midfield, but his threatening effort was a rising shot that flew just over Andy Lonergan’s goal.
Both managers made a host of changes at half-time. Symons introduced seven new players for the second period, whilst Villa restarted having made ten changes, and it was they who settled the quicker. Lonergan was soon at full stretch to tip a superb free-kick from Gary Gardner over the bar with real agility as the ball threatened to drop in the top corner. Villa’s quicker passing began to press the youthful Fulham side back and it was little surprise when the Premier League side equalised ten minutes into the second half, although there was a fair amount of controversy about the goal.
Former Chelsea mdifielder Joe Cole, offered a roaming role behind the striker, drifted in a dangerous position and played a sumptuous pass for Libor Kozak and the Czech forward guided the ball clinically past Lonergan. Fulham’s defence was rather statuesque but that was largely caused by centre back Shaun Hutchinson stooping to knees after picking up a head injury. The referee refused to stop play and Fulham’s animated protests were in vain.
Symons’ side, though, responded to conceding the goal in the best possible fashion. Larnell Cole, who spent much of last season on the sidelines through injury, often a glimpse of what Fulham have been missing with a clever pass to Kacaniklic, who bent a simply unstoppable strike around substitute goalkeeper Brad Wilkins, from the edge of the box that went in off the underside of the crossbar. It was a fabulous finish and the richly deserved goal marked an eye-catching performance from the left winger.
Villa continued to enjoy plenty of possession with Joe Cole’s artistry coming to the fore, but they struggled to finish a clear cut chance, as illustrated when Aleksandar Tonev’s dangerous cut-back found his team-mates on their heels as it flashed across the Fulham box. Instead, it was the Championship side who sealed the win with a goal that owed much to Adam Taggart’s persistence. The Australian striker, introduced as a half-time substitute, pinched the ball from a dallying Ciaran Clark and released Ryan Tunnicliffe, whose low ball was clinically converted by Ross McCormack for the clinching third goal.
ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Steer (Watkins 45); Baker (Donachie 45), Richards (Senderos 45), Bacuna (Clark 45), Richardson (Cissohko 45); Mason (Tonev 45), J. Cole, Gil (Garnder 45), N’Zogbia (Calder 45), Robinson (Sinclair 45); Agbonlahor (Kozak 45).
GOAL: Kozak (56).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Lonergan (Bettinelli 60), Grimmer (Kavanagh 45), Voser, Bodurov (Hutchinson 45), Burn (Burgess 45); Donnelly (Tunnicliffe 34), Hyndman (Pringle 45), Eisfeld (L. Cole), Kacaniklic; Smith (McCormack 45), Woodrow (Taggart 45).
GOAL: Smith (22), Kacaniklic (67), McCormack (87).