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Tom Cairney was delighted with Fulham’s ‘special victory’ over Aston Villa – after the Whites’ 2-0 win at Craven Cottage served notice of their promotion ambitions.

The Scottish playmaker returned to Slavisa Jokanovic’s starting line-up after another injury lay-off caused by a persistent knee problem and gradually became more influential as the game wore one. Cairney told BBC London Sport he was really pleased by the way Fulham delivered a strong performance in such a crucial contest:

It was a big victory. I’d say it was the biggest game in the Football League, to be fair, this weekend – two in-form teams and they’d won their last six or seven games. It was a huge game. To win, and win in the manner we did, was special.

They were hard to break down. We’ve got a tight pitch and I think it suited them. They got ten men behind the ball and they defend well – that’s why they are where they are – but I think in the second half, we took a lot more risks, had a few more shots and we kind of cut them open a little bit.

Cairney felt, taking the lead shortly after half time, proved pivotal in opening the game up and forcing Villa to move onto the front foot. He also saluted Ryan Sessegnon’s persistence in scoring the opener after having had a quiet first half up front an impressive Axel Tuanzebe, who Steve Bruce deployed at full back.

I think the first goal in any goal is important, but even more so today, because it had to bring them out and, as soon as we went 1-0 up, we could have scored a few more. I think the right back did really well. I think, as you say, he was really strong and quick so it was quite a tough test, but good players always adapt and he got his goal again.

The 27 year-old described Floyd Ayite’s second – struck from the centre circle after Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone fluffed his clearance – as reminiscent of David Beckham’s famous strike at Selhurst Park.

It was a bit Beckham-esque and he stood still like Cantona after he scored as well, so it was a special goal from Floyd – but he’s capable of that.

Cairney revealed afterwards that his troublesome knee felt quite strong and that he hopes he can be fit for Fulham’s crucial run of upcoming games, including Wednesday’s trip to promotion rivals Bristol City.

I felt quite strong so hopefully my knee doesn’t flare up and it’s okay for the next game. It’s been a little bit on and off all season., I had a good run over Christmas, but was out [for] a few games obviously of late, but today I felt good.

I think we’re in one hell of a run. I think every time we play in the next five games is either near us or above us so it couldn’t be more of a tough test so I need to be ready. It’s a massive confidence boost. They are second in the league today and I think we took them apart at times so we’ve all got to believe.