Fulham snap losing streak with 2-0 win over Aston Villa

Revitalised and rejuvenated, Fulham brought a run of seven successive defeats to an end in emphatic fashion, writes Richard Jolly.

Ashley Westwood, left, of Aston Villa passes the ball under pressure from Giorgos Karagounis of Fulham during their match on Sunday afternoon. Paul Gilham / Getty Images
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Fulham 2 Aston Villa 0

Fulham: Sidwell 21', Berbatov (pen) 30'

Man of the match: Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)

London // Chairmen and owners are often criticised for dismissing managers. Occasionally, however, there should be recognition that, sad as it is to see a man lose his job, change was required and right.

A week after the affable Martin Jol’s reign at Craven Cottage was ended, Fulham ended their losing run, recorded a first triumph under his successor, Rene Meulensteen, and looked like a team transformed.

Revitalised and rejuvenated, they brought a run of seven successive defeats to an end in emphatic fashion. Aston Villa arrived with an enviable away record and departed demolished.

It amounted to vindication for the American owner Shahid Khan and an endorsement of Meulensteen.

Much as it was a miserable weekend for the modern-day Manchester United, two figures from their past prospered.

Dimitar Berbatov, still their record signing, scored and starred and Meulensteen, their first-team coach for the last five years, masterminded his first win.

“I couldn’t be more delighted,” said the Dutchman. “The fans can see we are back on track.”

If so, however, they have taken a radical route. Perhaps the experience of working for Sir Alex Ferguson encouraged Meulensteen to be decisive, because he has taken dramatic steps.

He made seven changes for his first game in charge, Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Tottenham, and has reinvented Steve Sidwell as an attacking midfielder.

It was a switch that paid dividends. Meeting Ashkan Dejagah’s through ball, Sidwell, a former Villa player, managed to finish from an improbable angle, somehow scooping a shot over Brad Guzan for the opening goal.

Parity had only been preserved until then because of a rearguard action.

Seconds after Ciaran Clark made a perfectly timed last-ditch tackle on Dejagah, Nathan Baker cleared Alex Kacaniklic’s shot off the line, while Guzan had already repelled Berbatov’s header.

Goals had been in short supply for the Bulgarian, who lost the captaincy to Scott Parker as Fulham became embroiled in a relegation battle.

It was an understandable switch: a man as understated and nonchalant as Berbatov will inevitably have his attitude questioned when results are not forthcoming, and his agent’s declaration that the forward wanted to leave hardly helped.

“He’s fully committed to Fulham,” Meulensteen insisted.

While there was evidence of Berbatov’s oft-concealed desire – a first-minute charge along the right wing signalled his intent – the striker’s greatest contribution came courtesy of his class.

“He showed what he is capable of,” his manager said.

Berbatov casually rolled in the second goal from the penalty spot. He had played a part in its award, too, releasing Kacaniklic with a delectable first-time flick from the centre circle. It sent the Swede scurrying into the box, where he was upended by Leandro Bacuna.

“Football is about decisions and opinions,” Meulensteen said.

His Villa counterpart was less philosophical.

“The lad has backed into Leo,” Paul Lambert said. “The referee has bought it.”

It was one of two penalty decisions to irritate him. Gabriel Agbonlahor was denied a spot kick when tripped by Aaron Hughes.

“That was an absolute stonewaller,” Lambert said.

If he was aggrieved by the officiating, however, his side may have been flattered by the score. Fulham were in complete control and the surprise was that a third goal did not arrive.

Chris Herd also cleared off his own line to spare teammate Clark an own goal while John Arne Riise, who had fallen out of favour under Jol, hit the post after a cross from Giorgos Karagounis, who belied his 36 years with a performance of boundless energy.

“We were quality going forward,” Meulensteen said, after they drew level on points with Crystal Palace and West Ham. “It’s so tight in the league.”


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