A horrible howler from goalkeeper David Button ended Fulham’s unbeaten away record and extended Aston Villa’s mini-revival under new boss Steve Bruce. With a tepid encounter seemingly meandering towards a forgettable goalless draw, Button dallied on the ball outside his penalty area and saw his mistimed clearance flew off the advancing substitute Albert Adomah, who conjured up a cross for Jonathan Kodija to apply the punishment with an excellent acrobatic finish.
Button’s error will raise questions about his place in the side – vastly overshadowing the two fine saves he had previously made to preserve parity. He produced an instinctive reaction stop to prevent Kodija from opening the scoring with a first-time shot from an acute angle at the near post ten minutes in and moved smartly to his left to tip over a Jordan Ayew free-kick that was heading for the top corner, but his culpability for the decisive moment of the contest cannot be brushed over.
This was Fulham’s flakiest away display of the campaign – full of frustration as the Whites seemed unwilling to exploit the pace of the recalled Ryan Sessegnon and Sone Aluko in wide areas and laboured in possession. As per usual, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side had the lion’s share of the ball but most of the possession saw the visitors weave pretty patterns inside their own half rather than threaten the previously creaky Villa back-line. Aluko eventually registered Fulham’s only shot on target shortly before the break, but even that was a speculative strike from range, easily fielded by Pierliugi Gollini.
Villa, who seemed content to give Fulham the time and space to play out from the back during the first period, were much more aggressive after the interval and played at a far higher intensity. Had Gary Gardner’s composure not deserted him as he surged into the box just after the break, the home side might have taken the lead earlier. Rudy Gestede sent a couple of headers wide before he was replaced by Adomah and former Fulham forward Ross McCormack was introduced with just over a quarter of an hour to play as Bruce went in search of his first victory at Villa Park.
Fulham’s football was functional and ponderous and for all the industry provided by the willing Lucas Piazon and Aluko’s energy, their clearest opener came from a set play. Stefan Johansen whipped in a dangerous corner that located Michael Madl at the back post, but the Austrian couldn’t guide his header on target – although the last touch appeared to come off a Villa defender. The visitors seemed content to take a point from a contest they were largely pushed back in and the class of Tom Cairney, brought in the final quarter following the whack he took on his knee at Barnsley, proved peripheral once Jokanovic summoned Matt Smith from the bench and Fulham went route one in search for an equaliser.
In truth, Villa looked the far likelier scorers, even after they had profited from Button’s generosity. Just seconds after going in front, they should have put the game beyond Fulham but Ayew skewed his shot horribly wide after being sent clear of the Fulham defence by an inch-perfect McCormack pass. Fulham did belatedly apply pressure to the home goal with Chris Martin’s 20-yard shot looping over the crossbar after taking a wicked deflection and a late cross from substitute Floyd Ayite causing Gollini a moment of concern before he turned it over the bar with Smith and Martin in close attendance. Fulham’s fleeting ambition proved far too little, far too late.
ASTON VILLA (4-3-3): Gollini; Hutton, Amavi, Chester, Baker; Jedinak (McCormack 73), Bacuna, G. Gardner; J. Ayew, Gestede (Adomah 55), Kodjia (Westwood 86). Subs (not used): Bunn, Cissokho, Tshibola, Green.
GOAL: Kodjia (80).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Sessegnon, Sigurdsson, Madl; Parker, McDonald; Piazon (Ayite 81), Aluko (Cairney 67), Johansen (Smith 81); Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Fredericks, Malone, Ream.
BOOKED: Piazon, McDonald, Martin, Madl.
REFEREE: Andy Madley (Huddersfield).