Villa recover with Fulham win
Gabriel Agbonlahor helped Aston Villa bounce back from their European exit as they easily disposed of Fulham to register their first home Barclays Premier League win of the campaign. The England striker's pressure forced Fulham defender John Pantsil to head into his own net for the opening goal after three minutes. Then Agbonlahor struck the decisive second goal, his first of the season, 14 minutes into the second period to wrap up the points for Martin O'Neill's side.
It was the perfect pick-up for Villa after failing to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League after being beaten on away goals by Rapid Vienna. The Cottagers struggled to cope with the pace of Agbonlahor and Ashley Young plus the accurate passing of James Milner, while Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell offered good support from midfield.
Villa's territorial dominance was such that goalkeeper Brad Friedel was a virtual spectator for the entire 90 minutes and 19-year-old central defender Ciaran Clark was able to make an assured debut. Fulham looked pedestrian and lethargic after their own European exertions against Amkar Perm in Russia in mid-week and they missed the industry of injured midfielder Danny Murphy and front duo Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora.
Villa needed only three minutes to break the deadlock, but they were given a helping hand by their former defender Aaron Hughes and Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer in setting up the goal. Hughes sent a careless back pass towards Schwarzer who could only slice the ball out of play for a corner.
Young's corner was flicked on by Carlos Cuellar and Cottagers' defender Pantsil could only head the ball into his own net at the near post when under immense pressure from Agbonlahor. Fulham were knocked out of their stride by this early setback and Sidwell was only just too high with a curling effort after Agbonlahor had turned a dangerous ball from Nicky Shorey into his path.
Villa were finding plenty of space down their left flank with Agbonlahor and Young looking to put Hughes and Pantsil under pressure. Shorey's through ball picked out the run of Agbonlahor and his low dangerous cross was turned away by Paul Konchesky at full stretch.
Sidwell then got on the end of a Young free-kick, but directed his header wide before Clark missed a good chance to mark his debut with a goal after 24 minutes. The England U-19 international was unmarked when he got on the end of a Young corner, but sent his header over the bar.
Fulham midfielder Dickson Etuhu was relieved in trying to clear a Young corner when his header bounced over his own crossbar. Etuhu was guilty of a series of fouls and in the 39th minute became the first player to be yellow carded by referee Steve Bennett for bringing down Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov. Then Fulham newcomer Jonathan Greening was also cautioned for chopping down Milner.
Schwarzer had a brief fitness test before play resumed and seemed to have a problem with his left thigh. There was a cagey opening to the second period, although a fierce shot from Erik Nevland was blocked by Clark full in the face.
Dempsey was only just too high with a 25-yard free-kick after Petrov had brought down Diomansy Kamara. Milner showed positive intent, but drilled his shot well wide from a narrow angle. Then after 59 minutes Villa gave themselves a two goal cushion with Agbonlahor's splendid goal.
Milner played the ball inside to the England striker who bore down on the Fulham box before beating Schwarzer with a fierce 20-yard drive. O'Neill brought on striker John Carew in place of the impressive Reo-Coker with 20 minutes remaining. As time ticked away, Sidwell picked up a late booking for a challenge on Dempsey.