This may well be Fulham’s most damaging defeat of the season. Tantalisingly, a spot above the relegation zone appeared in their grasp after Aleksandar Mitrovic punished a horrific mistake by Tyrone Mings to put them in front at Villa Park, but Scott Parker’s side couldn’t hold on. Instead, they crumbled. Two goals in space of three minutes from substitute Trezeguet turned the contest on its head before Ollie Watkins completed the comeback from close range.
The faces at full-time said it all. Dean Smith’s Villa charges were delirious – but Fulham looked shellshocked. They had been comfortably in control when Mitrovic brought his outstanding international form back to the domestic arena and, although there was more than an element of fortune about the way the ball fell for him, the visitors thoroughly merited their second half lead. The Whites had been the more adventurous of the two sides – and it took Villa nearly seventy minutes to muster a shot on target.
That’s what made the turnaround so surprising. Villa had flickered with Bertrand Traore briefly coming to the fore, but the away defence had kept Watkins – a scorer on his international debut with England – particularly quiet and looked on course for a crucial away win. It was Mings himself who sparked the Villa comeback, galloping down the left flank and picking out Trezeguet on the edge of the box with a low cross that the Egyptian guided into the bottom corner with real precision.
Just three minutes later, Villa were in front. An error from the usually reliable Tosin Adarabioyo saw Keinan Davis seize possession from the Fulham centre back in a dangerous position. The forward surged down the right flank and produced a deep cross that Trezeguet gleefully forced home at the far post. Adarabioyo booted the loose ball away in anger – knowing just how cruical that lapse might prove in such a tight relegation battle – and Fulham heads dropped.
Any hopes of a rousing revival were extinguished when Watkins tapped home a third from close range after Traore had tricked his way past Ola Aina and you sense it will take all of Parker’s powers as a motivator now to lift his troops for the run-in. Staying up is certainly not beyond Fulham, but they keep making it even more difficult.
The away side had begun brightly, with Mitrovic underlining his rediscovered confidence by testing Emiliano Martinez with a low snapshot from just outside the box. Bobby Decordova-Reid might have done better than direct a header wide of goal from an excellent Kenny Tete cross, before Mitrovic’s vociferous appeals for a penalty when he was pulled down by Mings were waved away. The Serbian was certainly Fulham’s talisman, seeing a left-footed effort palmed aside by Martinez after a surging run from Ruben Loftus-Cheek threatened to open Villa up.
The hosts gradually got into the contest but found Fulham’s well-drilled midfield particularly difficult to play through. Watkins was anonymous, save for a heavy touch in the second minute that prevented him from converting a devilish cross from Matty Cash. Though they enjoyed more possession as the half went on, it would have been a tragedy if Villa had gone in front at the break. That nearly happened when Andy Madley penalised Mario Lemina’s challenge on Watkins on the stroke of half-time but, after consultation with the pitchside monitor, the referee overturned his decision, deciding that the Fulham midfielder had made contact with the ball.
Fulham’s plans for the second half were disrupted within two minutes of the restart when Ademola Lookman was forced off injured after clashing with Cash. Ivan Cavaleiro came on and the second period followed a similar pattern. Fulham were purposeful in possession – but you could sense the tension was playing a key role too. They were only too grateful to profit from a terrible mistake by Mings, who underhit a routine backpass to Martinez badly, allowing Mitrovic to nip in, round the goalkeeper and stroke his first Premier League goal in some 22 matches into the empty net.
The visitors initially showed little sign of sitting on their lead, with Harrison Reed bending an effort wide from just outside the box after Villa had been caught trying to play out from the back. But Villa began to throw numbers forward – and after Smith sent on Davis to join Watkins in attack – the Fulham rearguard dropped decidedly deeper. The decisive Villa goals came in a rush, with Trezeguet’s well-struck first swiftly followed by a poacher’s finish at the far post. The substitute’s first goals of the campaign felt like a hammer blow for Fulham, who are now three points behind Newcastle in seventeenth place.
ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Cash, Targett, Mings, Konsa; Douglas Luiz (Ramsey 74), Sanson (Davis 67); Traore, El-Ghazi, McGinn; Watkins. Subs (not used): Heaton, Engles, Taylor, Nakamba, Barkley, El-Mohamady.
BOOKED: Douglas Luiz.
GOALS: Trezeguet (78, 81), Watkins (87).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete, Aina, Adarabioyo, Andersen; Lemina (Onomah 83), Reed; Lookman (Cavaleiro 47), Decordova-Reid, Loftus-Cheek (Maja 83); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Ream, Kongolo, Robinson, Bryan, Anguissa.
BOOKED: Andersen, Decordova-Reid.
GOAL: Mitrovic (61).
REFEREE: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).