Premier League – Fulham frustrate Villa

Aston Villa missed out on the chance to go third in the Premier League when they were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Fulham at Villa Park.

2008-2009 Aston Villa-Fulham Brede Hangeland Gabriel Agbonlahor - 0

Villa enjoyed the better of possession and chances throughout the 90 minutes but with John Carew missing through injury, Martin O’Neill’s side lacked a killer instinct in front of goal.

In particular, Villa midfielders Steve Sidwell and Gareth Barry were guilty of profligacy when presented with a number of clear-cut scoring opportunities.

The result saw Villa stay in fourth place, level on points with Manchester United, who play in the Manchester derby on Sunday.

For Fulham, the result proved their point won at Liverpool a week earlier was no flash in the pan and a tally of two points from their last two away games – both tough fixtures – was enough to see Roy Hodgson’s side claim eighth place.

Despite having started the game brightly, the Cottagers were forced into a backs-to-the-wall performance for much of the remainder of the match, with another solid defensive display the cornerstone of their performance.

Villa took a quarter-of-an-hour to find their stride before they began to test the Fulham back line, who had already proved they boast one of the league’s tougher defences after the Anfield result.

The Cottagers defence, again well marshalled by the immense Brede Hangeland – a reported transfer target of both Arsenal and Tottenham – first had to show their mettle midway through the opening period when they weathered a brief storm from Villa.

Ashley Young had signalled the hosts’ intent on 19 minutes, firing into the side netting after having cut inside John Pantsil, but the first real chance of the game fell to Barry five minutes later.

Young was again involved, sending over a dangerous cross which the former Villa captain, rising above Paul Konchesky, could only head wide of the upright.

Moments later, Stiliyan Petrov watched as his flicked header at the near post looped over Mark Schwarzer‘s bar but, despite the little period of pressure, the hosts could find a way through.

Sidwell was then guilty of the miss of the match, the summer signing heading over the bar after Young’s well-delivered free-kick had found him unmarked in front of goal.

Villa were left to rue that miss as Fulham stood firm in the face of increased pressure from O’Neill’s side after the break.

As in the first half, Young was at the centre of most of Villa’s attacking play during the second, his pace and accurate delivery providing a constant threat from the left hand side.

The winger put two further chances on a plate for Barry, who made it a hat-trick of missed headers for the afternoon.

On 70 minutes, Young picked out the England midfielder with a precise cross, only for Schwarzer – who looked susceptible on crosses all afternoon – to pull a save right out of the top drawer, somehow diverting the ball onto the cross bar before pouncing to claim the rebound.

And nine minutes later, Barry again met a Young centre, this time glancing his header wide of the far post.

Despite the pressure at one end, Fulham still managed to give the occasional reminder that, in Bobby Zamora and the in-form Andrew Johnson, they were more than capable of nicking something on the break.

But it was Clint Dempsey who came closest to stealing all three points for the visitors. The American had already seen his compatriot Brad Friedel tip over a stabbed effort just before the half-time break, and he was again denied by the Villa keeper on 71 minutes; his fierce drive was beaten away by the former Blackburn man.

There was still time for Sidwell to secure victory for Villa as time ran out, but his 88th minute effort soared into the Holte End, from where a chorus of disgruntled boos emanated soon after as the full-time whistle sounded.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport