Four years ago, when Fulham won their first promotion to the Premier League under Shahid Khan’s ownership, they ended John Terry’s career at Wembley as Tom Cairney’s goal took Slavisa Jokanovic’s side to victory over Aston Villa. Tonight, at Craven Cottage, they finished off another England captain’s association with the Villains as Steven Gerrard was dismissed from his managerial duties after Marco Silva’s side eased to a comfortable victory at Craven Cottage.
Bafflingly, Villa – who have won just two league games this season – were favourites with the bookmakers for this encounter. They never looked like securing the win that would have relieved the pressure on Gerrard, who glumly conceded his side were second best in a sombre post-match press conference. Like Liz Truss, the manager insisted he wasn’t a quitter only to be removed by the Villa in a terse statement after he had finished speaking. An angry fan base now has to hope that the Villa hierarchy can make the right appointment, with the side languishing above the relegation zone on goal difference.
Fulham were rampant almost from the off. Willian, who replaced Dan James in the only change from Saturday’s disappointing draw with Bournemouth, rolled back the years with a virtuoso display that belied his advancing years. The Brazilian played in the overlapping Antonee Robinson after a determined dribble by Bobby Decordova-Reid, but the American’s shot was blocked at source. The former Arsenal and Chelsea winger tested Emi Martinez’s reflexes with a low drive of his own, before Aleksandar Mitrovic headed a devilish Decordova-Reid cross over the bar. The Serbian went closer from a corner five minutes later, with Tyrone Mings hacking away the forward’s header from underneath the bar.
Andreas Pereira, who had twice gone close with speculative strikes, then drew a low save from Martinez before Willian also extended the goalkeeper after a fine run. Villa threatened sporadically but Danny Ings found himself too isolated from the rest of his team-mates to put a fragile Fulham defence under pressure. Bernd Leno flapped at a couple of crosses to increase the nerves, but the natives were becalmed by a brilliant strike from Harrison Reed. The energetic midfielder rattled in his second goal in a month from just outside the box after Martinez had failed to punch away a corner convincingly.
Gerrard sent on Matty Cash at half-time but the visitors seemed to have no answer for Fulham’s fluid football. Tyrone Mings bravely blocked a snapshot from Mitrovic at the end of a swift break, but Villa’s cause became almost hopeless when Douglas Luiz headbutted Fulham’s talisman and received a red card after a VAR review. Things went from bad to worse for Gerrard as Cash handled a goalbound effort from Mitrovic to concede a penalty, which squirmed under the unfortunate Martinez.
Ashley Yong and Ollie Wilkins went close for the ten men, before the defence caved in again. Mings, who Gerrard stripped of the captaincy this summer, get the final touch past his own goalkeeper after Neeskens Kebano had befuddled an all-at-sea Cash and fired a ball across the face of goal. Fulham were comfortable long before the end – with Silva introducing the prodigiously talented Luke Harris for his Premier League debut. Such a commanding win lifts the Whites into the top half of the table, if only for 48 hours.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Decordova-Reid, A. Robinson, Diop, Ream; Palhinha, Reed (Cairney 73); Willian (James 73), Kebano (Wilson 85), Pereira (Harris 87); Mitrovic (Vinicius 85). Subs (not used): Rodak, Adarioboy, Duffy, Mbabu.
GOALS: Reed (36), Mitrovic (pen 68), Mings (o.g. 83).
ASTON VILLA (4-3-2-1): Martinez; Konsa, Young, Bednarek (Cash 45), Mings; J. Ramsey (Archer 81), McGinn; Bailey (Buenda 58), Watkins; Ings (Dendoncker 69). Subs (not used): Olsen, Chambers, Sanson, Nakamba, Coutinho.
BOOKED: Bailey, Mings.
REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Tyne and Weir)