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′