A combination of John Terry – for it had to be him – and Albert Adomah ended Fulham’s four-game unbeaten run and lifted Aston Villa in the Championship play-off places as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side ultimately flattered to deceive at Villa Park this afternoon.
The visitors had recovered well from the shock of conceding Terry’s first Villa goal – a trademark powerful header from Conor Hourihane’s beautifully flighted free-kick – to be level at the end of the first half courtesy of Stefan Johansen’s excellent free-kick, but Jokanovic would have been disappointed with the careless nature of how his side fell behind shortly after the restart.
Fulham, who struggled to assert themselves in the final third after Jokanovic had opted to fit Aboubakar Kamara and Rui Fonte his frontline, squandered possession high up the field and Josh Onomah found it far too easy to fire in a low cross from the right that was miscued by Jonathan Kodija straight into the path of Adomah, who clinically finished from close range at the far post. The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession after falling behind but failed to create clear-cut chances after Floyd Ayite spurned a glorious opportunity and, despite being perked up by the introduction of Tom Cairney as a second half substitute, fell to a deflating defeat.
Ryan Fredericks, who didn’t look fully fit after picking up a foot injury last Friday, was Fulham’s most threatening outlet down the right but Steve Bruce’s side shuffled across to nullify most of the pretty passing and hung on for a precious three points ahead of the local derby with Birmingham next weekend. Both Terry and James Chester blocked goalbound efforts in the closing stages and the trickery of Ryan Sessegnon couldn’t unlock a well-drilled defence.
Fulham began the brighter of the two sides showing a verve and ambition that had perhaps been lacking in the way they began against Preston last week. Jokanovic’s side could have been in front after three minutes when Ayite sped past three claret and blue shirts before feeding Sessegnon but Kamara proved unable to divert the teenager’s inviting cross beyond the excellent Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal.
The hosts gradually began to assert themselves with Kodija shooting wildly wide after a solo run and Alan Hutton sent a header over from a free-kick. Fulham’s raids downfield were posing problems but twice Kamara and Fonte were crowded out as they sought to pull the trigger and the visitors were punished from a set play. Hourihane’s faboulous delivery located Terry a couple of yards ahead of his marker and the former Chelsea defender delighted in burying a header emphatically beyond Button.
The Fulham goalkeeper then made smart saves to keep out long range efforts from Onomah and Kodija before scampering from his line to block the latter’s powerful effort as he crept onto a clever Hourihane pass. Ayite sent a speculative strike from distance high into the Holte End and then survived an agricultural challenge from Robert Snodgrass, with the former Hull City winger somehow escaping without a yellow card.
Ayite saw another promising run crudely curtailed on the edge of the box – and referee Mike Jones elected not to caution Chester. Fulham profited from the set play, however, as Johansen curled an unstoppable effort over the wall and in off the far post in added time at the end of the first half. It was a majestic strike – and the perfect tonic just before the break.
Any plans Jokanovic had outlined to trouble Villa’s ageing back line were barely enacted before the hosts had retaken the lead. Kamara dallied on the ball down the left wing and Glenn Whelan released Onomah on the Villa right, with the Tottenham loanee’s cross initially appearing perfect for Kodija. When the forward fluffed his opportunity the purchase he did get on the ball meant it fell perfect for Adomah to sweep home at the back post – and the noise level rocketed up inside Villa Park.
Ayite will feel he should have levelled the contest five minutes later when Fredericks breezed past Hutton, but the Togolese international’s well-struck was superbly parried by Johnstone. Kamara didn’t follow in the rebound and Fulham, for all their probing, couldn’t carve out a better opening. Indeed, it was Bruce’s side who threatened to extend their lead when Button turned over a towering header from substitute Ritchie de Laet in the game’s dying embers.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-1-1): Johnstone; Elmohamady, Hutton, Chester, Terry; Whelan, Hourihane, Snodgrass (de Laet 79) Adomah (Bjarnsason 86); Onomah; Kodija (Davis 73). Subs (not used): Steer, Samba, Hogan, O’Hare.
GOALS: Terry (23). Adomah (49).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Norwood (Cairney 6o), Johansen (Cisse 73); Fonte (Kebano 79), Ayite, Kamara. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Djalo, Odoi, Soares, Mollo.
BOOKED: Norwood, Fonte.
GOAL: Johansen (45).
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Chester).