Patience is going to be required whilst we ride out the "bad luck storm" that is currently making our squad look as threadbare as at any time last season. I'm down at my Dad's so despite not going to the match had the benefit of extended Football First highlights to assess the game (albeit highlights from a horribly distant camera position). An own goal, an injury to our replacement Captain and then a (deserved) sending off all contributed to our downfall, but the pace of Villa's attack had caused us problems right from the off.
In my preview I had been wrong about the system Villa are playing. It’s a 4-3-3 with John Carew leading the line and Young & Agbonlahor supporting from wider positions. Interestingly Sanchez choose to match this formation, no doubt partly due to a lack of left wingers, and played a front line of Healy, Dempsey and Kamara. This had the affect of leaving both our full backs a little exposed, as, despite some good work tracking back from the front men, there was always room for the pace of Young and Agbonlahor to push on. This was emphasised when as early as the 3rd minute, Young attacked down our right and elicited a very poor challenge from Chris Baird which resulted in a Yellow card. Young was to cause Baird problems all afternoon and that early mistake would prove costly later in the game.
We scored early though and maybe had we kept eleven men on the field could have been stubborn enough to earn a point. Kamara collected a defensive clearance and broke quickly from our own half. He exchanged passes with Steven Davis, and as he tried again to find Davis, his attempted through ball was deflected into the centre of the penalty area where Clint Dempsey had made a great run and finished with style to give us a 6th minute lead.
Shortly after that we had a great chance to go two up. Davis and Healy took an unusual free kick (I'm still not sure if it was planned or a botch job) from which Healy floated a cross into the area. The ball was half cleared but fell to Kamara who fired low and hard only to see the ball deflected off Craig Gardner's hand. A difficult one to call, later replays suggest we had a good shout for a penalty as Gardner's hand did move toward the ball, but my first reaction was that it was ball to hand so I don't think you can blame the officials for missing it.
In the second half Villa switched to 4-4-2, Luke Moore replacing Stilian Petrov. Young and Agbonlahor continued to frighten our full backs, whilst Moore added more pace to the middle and John Carew was now less isolated. Despite this we had another good chance early on with Kamara collecting the ball well on the edge of the box and firing a great shot that hit the post and somehow bounced back for the Villa defence to clear. A good through ball almost saw Luke Moore in on goal but Keller was out quickly to claim it. Then Young again beat Baird and fired a pacey ball across goal where Knight was unfortunate to deflect it in past Keller. I felt Zat was unlucky as there wasn't much else he could do. Almost straight after the equaliser our "curse of the Captain" continued as Zat limped off to be replaced by Ian Pearce. Bocanegra took over as Captain.
The pressure was starting to build now. Keller saved well again from Moore, before seeming to go down with cramp (been a long time since he had to play 90 minutes!). Then Collins John came on to replace Healy. John had hardly touched the ball though before the crucial decision of the game saw Chris Baird sent off for another clumsy challenge on Ashley Young. Villa actually scored from this move, but the ball was brought back for a free kick. A let off, but a warning. Volz replaced Kamara to fill the gap left by Baird, but Kamara was also yellow carded as referee Bennett felt he was taking too long to leave the field of play.
Villa sensing the chance of three points replaced Bouma and Carew with Maloney and Harewood, but again it was Fulham who found themselves with a chance on goal. Collins John collected a good through ball in the penalty area but then completely lost control before falling over his own feet. A Fulham corner also saw both Boca and Dempsey rise unchallenged and Dempsey's header forced an excellent save out of Scott Carson.
With time running out we were finally undone as Ashley Young played a defence splitting pass through to Maloney who fired home past the advancing Kasey Keller. For some reason Volzy had switched places with Ian Pearce and was caught in no man's land as Maloney, possibly slightly offside, found the space to control and shoot. A disappointing conclusion, despite Villa's undoubted dominance.
Fulham lined up in a 4-4-2 formation (despite what I said in the report! See comments) as follows;
- GK 01 Keller
- RB 34 Baird
- CB 06 Knight (c)
- CB 03 Bocanegra
- LB 04 Konchesky
- RM 25 Davies
- CM 10 Davis
- CM 08 Smertin
- LM 11 Kamara
- ST 23 Dempsey
- ST 09 Healy
Subs: 12 Warner, 14 Diop, 02 Volz (for 11 on 69), 19 Pearce (for 06 on 56), 15 John (for 09 on 65)