Fulham 2-0 Aston Villa
Oh the relief!
A first win after six straight defeats was worth 50 Fulham visits to Santa’s grotto.
A vital three points needed a woeful Villa to contribute to only a second home win, but the Whites seized the initiative and held on with an iron grip.
A bit more of this and all this nonsense about relegation is in the bin along with the turkey leftovers come the New Year.
Fulham feasted on chance after chance – and even given their barren campaign, were good value for a lot more than just two goals.
A decent shout for a penalty fell on deaf ears after eight minutes.
Dimitar Berbatov’s leap in the box as he tried to connect with Alex Kacaniklic’s cross appeared to get impeded by Ciaran Clark, but the ref was unmoved.
Christian Benteke wasted a clearer chance a bit later with a flashing header wide of the far post when left in the middle on his own.
A flurry of home chances then came and went in the blink of an eye.
Again Berbatov was about to pull the trigger, but got checked. The rebound fell to Kacaniklic and his curler needed Chris Herd on the line to clear.
The same Fulham player had a second go from much the same left-side angle seconds later, but the goal that had been threatened arrived seconds later.
Berbatov’s cushioned header was flicked on by Ashkan Dejagah, and Steve Sidwell’s determination to go with dozing Leandro Bacuna allowed the Fulham man to hook his left foot around the defender and tip the ball past Guzan.
It was a 10 minutes to forget for Bacuna when he fell for the five-card trick and shoved Kacaniklic in the back on the left side of the box.
The Fulham winger knew the defender was on to him so he simply stopped and invited the shove.
Berbatov’s stuttering step-up from the spot flummoxed Guzan to send him the wrong way for a deserved 2-0. It was the Bulgarian’s eighth Premier League penalty – and he’s converted the lot.
He’s had his critics, but when in this mood Berba is pretty irresistible.
A classic give-and-go with Sidwell saw Berbatov nonchalantly stroke the ball with the outside of his boot that demanded a smart stop from Guzan down to his right.
Fulham were in overdrive from the start of the second. Kacaniklic and Sidwell both had the ball nicked off their toes as the home side threatened.
A Villa now at sixes and sevens, allowed a regulation cross from Giorgos Karagounis to reach John Arne Riise at the back post.
The surprise partially explained how his header hit the post rather than the back of the net.
A rattled Guzan needed two attempts to gather Dejegah’s shot straight at him.
But in rare moment of away momentum, Riise and Philippe Senderos put their torsos and legs in the way of Alex Toney’s half hit inside the six-yard area.
Sub Pajtim Kasami came on for the excellent Karagounis and with his first touch caused havoc in the Villa box – and not a white shirt near.
Herd and Guzan got in each other’s way with the ball perilously close to rolling over the line.
In full flow, Riise sent a piledriver inches wide of the near post while the sum total of Maarten Stekelenburg’s work at the other end was a sharp stop from a first-half drive from Benteke and a tip over from the same player at the death.
Last week, Fulham couldn’t buy a goalbound chance against West Ham.
Against Villa they had more than the last four matches combined to make Rene Meulensteen a very happy new manager.
Fulham 4-5-1: Stekelenburg; Riether, Hughes, Senderos, Riise; Dejegah, Parker, Karagounis (Kasami 73), Sidwell, Kacakiniklic (Duff 77); Berbatov; subs not used: Stockdale, Zverotic, Richardson, Christensen