Glensider at Craven Cottage
Attendance: 23 654
We`ve certainly experienced our fair share of late goals against us in recent seasons, late goals that have turned what could and indeed should have been impressive victories into disappointing drawers, or even depressing, somewhat undeserved defeats, well today my friends, add another late, late killer blow against us to that catalogue of games that got away from us.
Usually we get some sort of an indication that an opponents goal might be coming. We`ve been pressed back, they`ve upped their game, we`re under severe pressure, and the home support is helping to turn the screw by upping the volume control a notch or two, but this afternoon at Craven Cottage, none of those alerts had been evident. No warning signs whatsoever. Fulham had failed to put us under any sort of pressure from the outset, we were well in control, Gerard Houllier`s second Villa premier league victory looked to be in the bag, and then in the blink of an eye, or to put it more correctly, in the moment it took for young Marc Albrighton to give away a needless free kick out on the left flank, and the home side were suddenly back on level terms, and earning themselves a thoroughly undeserved point, thanks to Brede Hangeland`s unchallenged close range header from Danny Murphy`s cross.
Robbed of a thoroughly deserved victory? Yes, I think its fair to say we were. We ourselves didn`t put in an earth-shattering performance, far from it, but our young team, short of established and experienced personnel, and hampered even further by the loss of captain Nigel Reo-Coker, were on top throughout, in complete control against a team who the previous weekend, or so we were told post game by a couple of home supporters, had played some of their best football for a long, long time.
We had left Brummagem later than we normally prefer to do when journeying down to games in London, as yours truly had been up at the crack of dawn, well it felt like it, to put his taxi-driver hat on, and get out to Birmingham Airport to meet and greet my incoming American in-laws, five of them, who will be staying at the Glensider Hotel until the end of the month. After dropping them off at home, ensuring they were settled in, it was time to hit the road down to our capital city, for the important business of the day.
It seemed like a lot of Villans had made late departures too, or maybe, more likely in fact, the other 'late` starters on the road choose to leave at a slightly later and more sensible time anyway. As my one friend commented, 'Lets face it, we`re normally walking around the opponents stadium just as most Villans who are also journeying to the game, are still rolling out of bed and hopping into the shower`. Yes, perhaps we need to review our Brummagem departure times. A mental note made. Anyway, plenty of fellow Villans on the motorway, so it looked very much as if once again, we`d have encouraging and vocal away support.
We were pleased to learn upon arriving at the ground that young Barry Bannan had earned himself a starting place in Houllier`s latest line-up, and with Marc Albrighton and Nathan Delfouneso also included, it was very definitely pat on the back time for the Villa academy staff.
Our team:- Brad Friedel, Luke Young, Richard Dunne, James Collins, Stephen Warnock, Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan, Nigel Reo-Coker, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, Nathan Delfouneso.
On the bench, Brad Guzan, Carlos Cuellar, Cieran Clark, Eric Kichaj, Steve Sidwell, Jonathan Hogg, Stephen Ireland.
We perhaps should have made the dream start when Steward Downing was played through on goal by Marc Albrighton in the first minute, but Stewart hesitated, delayed his shot, and a saving tackle by a Fulham defender averted the danger.
On the quarter hour mark Nathan Delfouneso headed inches wide when he rose unchallenged on the edge of the six-yard box to meet another fine ball supplied from Marc, but again it was a chance that in truth we should have taken. At this level, should you find yourself unmarked with a clear goal scoring opportunity in front of you, then you`d better grab that opportunity with both hands. As it stood, that was two fairly decent opportunities we`d spurned in the opening fifteen minutes.
Ex Albion man Gera shot wide from the edge of the box a minute later, when he too should perhaps have done better for The Cottagers, and then Dempsey was put clear by Simon Davies, only for Big Brad, our ex-USA international keeper to thwart the current US international by saving with his
outstretched leg. With the goal gaping, Gera couldn`t keep the rebound down, and sent his follow up effort, high, wide, and none too handsome.
We looked comfortable in what we were doing though, tight at the back, compact in midfield, and lively up front, and were certainly not allowing Hughes` team to dominate proceedings.
On the half-hour mark though our injury problems deepened, when skipper Reo-Coker, who had started both brightly and prominently, was forced out of the contest with what looked to be a hamstring problem. He was replaced by Ciaran Clark.
Less that ten minutes after Nigel`s departure, we were ahead, when following an excellent crossfield ball from Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton took the ball superbly in his stride, before finishing with a left footed drive beyond Mark Schwarzer. Who says that Marc only uses that left leg to stand on?
After that goal, our first in over what, three hundred plus minutes of premier league football, we should really have gone on to score more. Chances came and went, and when you`re only 1-0 to the good, you always run the risk that a moment of relaxation or hesitation can allow the opposition to get back onto level terms, and all your effort and hard work is undone in a flash.
As the second half progressed, we were witness to more of the same. Houllier`s lads well in control, and Fulham having nothing about them to remotely suggest that they had it in them to get back into the game. Brad was enjoying a relatively quiet afternoon between the posts, and it started to look as if on this occasion just the solitary goal would be more than enough to secure the points.
Nathan should have doubled our lead when clean through on goal, but he disappointingly scuffed his shot, allowing Schwarzer to make an easy save, and the home side breathed again.
Hughes threw on Johnson and Duff in an attempt to salvage something from the game, and it was the former who found himself through on goal with a one-on-one against Brad, Fulham`s most clear-cut chance of the afternoon, but our evergreen keeper bravely gathered the ball to snuff out the chance.
Ashley Young went close with a diving header, but even then, surely we thought, it was too late in the day for Fulham to rescue anything from the encounter, so fair play to them I suppose, that they did.
Marc Albrighton fouled Damian Duff out on the left, Danny Murphy swung the free kick in, Hangeland attacked the ball and we didn`t, and three points became one.
Definitely a very frustrating and disappointing end to the game, but once again that old failing of simply not being able to kill a team off cost us dear. This was points tossed away, against what in truth was a rather poor Fulham team.
Admittedly we went into the game minus some experienced players, players who on the day might have made a difference, and then we suffered the additional blow of losing Nigel Reo-Coker, but then to have controlled the game from virtually start to finish, only to throw it away right at the death, was very, very hard to take.
With two home games now coming up, Gerard has to rally the troops, and hopefully send them out to record two successive victories. We need to start putting some three-pointers on the board, and we need to start doing it soon.
Have yourselves a great week fellow Vital Villans. See you all at Villa Park on Wednesday evening.