Fulham 0 Aston Villa 2: Agbonlahor at the double as Villa claim fine victory

30 January 2010 11:54
Being called a long-ball team is one thing, but being a side shorton goals is quite another. For the record, Mr Wenger, Aston Villa havenever been the one and are no longer the other.

Gabriel Agbonlahor's two goals just before half-time were the firstVilla had managed in the Premier League since before Christmas and wereeasily enough to give Martin O'Neill's team a first win in fiveattempts.

Their disappointing performance in the second half, in which Fulhamsubstitute David Elm had a 'goal' ruled out for offside and Villa hadnot one single attack of note, suggests that a fourth-place finish mayonce more prove beyond them.

At the double: Gabriel Agbonlahor makes it 2-0 at Craven Cottage

But this victory means that the point so grudgingly conceded by theArsenal manager at Villa Park on Tuesday could yet be the start of arevival of Villa's fortunes outside of the domestic cup competitions.

For Fulham, totally unrecognisable in the second half from the meek,careless outfit of the first period, it is back to the drawing board, afifth consecutive League defeat taking the shine off the reputationthey and their manager forged for themselves in the first half of theseason.

They have not won since December 19 - the date of Villa's previousPremier League win before yesterday - but with so many injuries it ishard to see when and how the run will end.

For most of the first half, Villa provided little evidence thatWenger's long-ball jibe had any foundation but also showed preciouslittle cutting edge.

Their approach play was neat enough and they spent long periods in possession and in woeful Fulham's half.

But for a team boasting two wingers with aspirations to travel tothe World Cup with England, their attacks lacked thrust and bite, whileAgbonlahor and Emile Heskey, who share Ashley Young and StewartDowning's dreams of starring in South Africa, were hardly pushing theircredentials.

Rising high: Gabriel Agbonlahor scores the opener

Heskey, Fabio Capello's preferred partner for Wayne Rooney, headedover the bar in the third minute, but Mark Schwarzer did not have asave to make until a tame Ashley Young shot in the 24th minute.

Then, in quick succession, Schwarzer made a decent save from LukeYoung's header and Stiliyan Petrov shot badly over the bar whenreleased at the corner of the six-yard box.

Fulham were so lacklustre that they would have been grateful tomake it to half-time on level terms, having forced Brad Friedel intojust one save and shown nothing of the poise and verve which had putchampions Manchester United to the sword here, 3-0 in December.

But the generosity evident in Fulham's surrender of the ball andfailure to win 50-50 challenges went to extremes in the last fiveminutes of the half.

A mix-up between Schwarzer and Brede Hangeland gifted Villa a throw,which Carlos Cuellar took quickly, allowing the unmarked Petrov an ageto swing in a fine cross.

Pointing the way to victory: Villa manager Martin O'Neill

Agbonlahor cut across Old Trafford-bound Chris Smalling far too easily but even then Schwarzer might have made a better effort at saving it. Sir Alex Ferguson, who has just agreed a fee of up to £12m for Smalling, will know Roy Hodgson's diamond still needs polishing.

Soon afterwards, Hangeland made the mystifying decision to show Agbonlahor inside from Cuellar's pass and the Villa striker curled a left-foot shot over the Fulham goalkeeper.

They were Agbonlahor's first League goals since the winner at Old Trafford on December 12, and Villa might have been lost without them, since Fulham were far from dead and buried. After Friedel saved from Zoltan Gera with his legs, the home side dominated the second half in much the same way Villa had controlled the first, and were unlucky to have nothing to show for their efforts.

They had every right to feel aggrieved that Elm's 72nd-minute effort was ruled out for offside.

The Fulham striker looked, at worst, level with the last defender when the cross came in, and his finish, a low left-footed volley across Friedel and into the net, deserved to count.

Villa had been utterly impotent as an attacking force in the second half, but O'Neill could at least rely on his sturdy back four, with both Richard Dunne and Luke Young throwing their bodies on the line to block the same Elm shot.

They will need more of that commitment all over the pitch, and more goals from Agbonlahor, if they are not to blow another chance to break into the top four.

 Wenger is getting excuses ready if he blows Premier League, rages O'NeillCeltic beat Hull and West Brom to sign Fulham's Diomansy Kamara on loanFULHAM FC

Source: Daily_Mail