villa fulham

Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham: A vital three points could help Cottagers reach safety (video)

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Fulham aren’t in the clear yet, but their win over Aston Villa provided a lifeline to the Cottagers. They’re now in 18th, five points from safety.

With Aston Villa missing three quality attackers in Christian Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor and Fabian Delph, and Fulham being, well, Fulham, it came as little surprise that the first half brought little action.

The hosts’ best chance came just after the half-hour mark. A beautiful pass from Marc Albrighton, possibly Villa’s best player on the day, found Leandro Bacuna as he wiggled free of two Fulham defenders. David Stockdale was on hand, however, with a diving save to keep Villa from taking the lead.

With ten minutes left to play in the first half, the visitors started to make their presence felt, forcing Brad Guzan into two great saves. For the first, the American denied young Cauley Woodrow from point-blank range, and for the second, Guzan was able to keep the scoreline scoreless at the break by denying Holtby just before the whistle.

Felix Magath made a double change to start the second half, taking off Cauley Woodrow and Pajtim Kasami for Hugo Rodellega and Ashkan Dejagah, but it was the hosts that looked the more lively after the restart. Leandro Bacuna very nearly put Villa ahead after collecting Grant Holt’s layoff, but Stockdale got a hand to it and the shot only collided with the post.

Of course, for Villa looking bright often means they’re on the verge of conceding. Sure enough, it was Fulham that opened the scoring. Kieran Richardson got on the end of a ball from substitute Dejagah, and, firing from over 20 yards out, managed to beat Guzan to send the ball into the top corner of the net.

But this is Fulham, who, prior to the match, had already conceded 73 goals this season. So it caused little surprise when Grant Holt managed to find his first goal for Aston Villa, in the 70th minute. Fulham left the forward unmarked on the far post, enabling him to easily get on the end of a corner from Albrighton to nod past Stockdale.

The equalizer brought a frentic final twenty minutes to the match. Goal-line technology was called into action after Lewis Holtby rounded Guzan, prompting Matt Lowton to slide in, making a fantastic clearance. The Villa defender nicked it just in time, with the ball staying out by the thinnest of margins.

But no one was there to rescue the Villa in the 86th minute, when Fulham took the lead once more. Again, it was a substitute making the difference, with Rodellaga on hand to flick Holtby’s cross in past Guzan. Possibly a pivotal goal for the Cottagers – could this be the moment that saves their season?

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand, Westwood, Bennett (Tonev 66), Bacuna, Albrighton (Bowery 90), Weimann, Holt

Goals: Holt 70′

Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Hangeland, Heitinga (Riise 83), Amorebieta; Diarra, Sidwell; Kasami (Dejagah 46), Holtby, Richardson; Woodrow (Rodallega 46)

Goals: Richardson 61′; Rodallega 86′

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.