Fulham brush aside 10-man Villa to boost play-off hopes
Fulham continued their push for a play-off berth in the Sky Bet Championship with a 3-1 home victory over 10-man Aston Villa.
Ryan Sessegnon, Sone Aluko and Neeskens Kebano were on the scoresheet for the Cottagers who have now won four of their last five league matches.
Jack Grealish had briefly drawn Villa level just after half-time, but the visitors were always up against after seeing striker Jonathan Kodjia sent off in the 22nd minute after clashing with Ryan Fredericks.
The hosts were forced into just one change from the team that beat Norwich away from home, with youngster Sessegnon replacing the suspended Chris Martin.
Villa manager Steve Bruce made five changes to the side that lost to Reading, the most notable being the returns of Tommy Elphick, Scott Hogan and Grealish, who made his first start since Valentine's Day.
Fulham were first to threaten with two low crosses from Scott Malone flying across the face of the Villa goal, but they only had to wait until the 17th minute to take the lead.
After Aluko forced Sam Johnstone into a fine save, Sessegnon put the hosts ahead when he slotted home the rebound after his initial volley had come back off the underside of the crossbar. It was the 16-year-old's seventh goal of the season.
The day soon worse for the visitors when Kodjia lashed out with his foot after tangling with Fredericks, and was subsequently shown a straight red card.
Fredericks nearly doubled Fulham's lead with six minutes of the first half remaining, when his shot from 20 yards out just flashed wide.
Tim Ream also had a great chance to make it 2-0 just before the break but he too failed to hit the target.
The visitors made Fulham pay five minutes after the restart, when after capitalising on some lacklustre play, Grealish was able to work his way into the area and unleash a superb curled effort that was too good for keeper Marcus Bettinelli.
Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic made his first change after 55 minutes, when he replaced Scott Malone with Kebano.
The move appeared to galvanise the home side immediately and they retook the lead a minute later with a volley by Aluko, albeit with some help from a deflection off Johnstone.
With Villa requiring a change of fortune, Alan Hutton - one of those dropped after the Reading game - came on for James Bree after 70 minutes.
But it was Fulham who made the crucial next breakthrough when, after Aluko had scuffed a 79th-minute effort, substitute Kebano fired home a minute later after good work from Stefan Johansen.
With Aluko receiving a rapturous reception by the home crowd after being substituted for Lucas Piazon, the home side were able to comfortably see the game out and keep themselves in the competitive race for the play-offs.