Villa frustrated, Black Cats humiliated
Martin O'Neill voiced his frustration after Aston Villa blew a golden opportunity to consolidate their place in the top four by failing to overcome a battling Fulham side. But the Villa boss insisted his side had not "choked" against one of the Premier League's minnows after taking four points from their previous matches, against Arsenal and Manchester United. With none of the teams above them in action, Villa had the chance to leapfrog Manchester United into third place in the table, for 24 hours at least.
But a goalless draw with Roy Hodgson's well-organised side means that they could lose their place in the top four if Arsenal beat leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. "It is disappointing but I do not accept that we choked," O'Neill said. "Fulham were tough to break down. Every game is hard and we are not brilliant enough at the moment to steamroll teams but we are doing fine."
Villa's goalkeeper Brad Friedel set a Premier League record by making his 167th consecutive league appearance, overtaking the previous mark set by England No. 1 David James. But Friedel's team-mates failed to ensure the landmark day ended on a high with Ashley Young, who shot wide from close range, and Stiliyan Petrov, who headed an equally good chance over the bar, squandering good chances before Gareth Barry had a late effort brilliantly saved by Fulham's Australian goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer.
Elsewhere, it was a bleak day for Sunderland, who dropped into the relegation zone after a 4-1 thumping at home to Bolton, while the north-east derby between Middlesbrough and Newcastle finished in a goalless stalemate. Newcastle's Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins came closest to breaking the deadlock in what was a sterile encounter, his first-half shot coming back off the crossbar. The point was enough for Newcastle to get out of the bottom three by leapfrogging local rivals Sunderland, who were booed off the pitch by their own supporters after a supine display against Bolton at the Stadium of Light.
The afternoon started on a positive note for the Black Cats with Djibril Cisse latching on to a fine pass from fellow Frenchman Steed Malbranque to give them a 12th-minute lead. But Bolton were quickly back on level terms thanks to Matt Taylor's looping header and three minutes later Gary Cahill gave the visitors the lead. Johan Elmander contrived to miss the target after going round Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon but made amends by striking either side of half-time to wrap up a win that lifted Gary Megson's men into the top half of the table.
"It is very hard to take," said Sunderland boss Roy Keane, whose future had been the subject of much speculation even before this latest reverse. "After scoring we just stopped playing and individual mistakes are costing us badly."
Marlon King's fine strike on the turn in first-half stoppage time gave Hull the lead at Stoke. But the home side rallied to claim a well-deserved point through Ricardo Fuller, who was pulled down in the box and got up to convert the resulting penalty 18 minutes from time.
Senegal striker Henri Camara followed up his winner against Everton last week with another goal for Wigan as Steve Bruce's side came from behind to overcome bottom side West Brom, 2-1, at the JJB Stadium. Ishmael Miller had given the Baggies the lead just after half-time after both Camara and Emile Heskey missed first-half chances for the home side. But Camara made amends with an equaliser on the hour and Emmerson Boyce headed in an 87th-minute winner from an inswinging corner.
Boyce shared the post-match plaudits with goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, who was backed for an England recall by Bruce. "We have to thank our goalkeeper. He was fantastic," Bruce said. "And in my eyes is one of the best goalkeepers in the country if not the best."