Football: Keegan back in full swing

FA Cup fourth round: Gregory's boys left in a whirl as Fulham begin to fulfil their lofty ambitions; Aston Villa 0 Fulham 2 Morgan 8, Hayward 43 Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 35,260
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The Independent Online
THINK FULHAM and it evokes west London fashion chic and twee furniture shops, Jimmy Hill's chin, and a decent view of the Boat Race. Maybe you could look a few more years back and think of Bobby Moore and George Best.

Oh, and a charismatic manager named Malcolm MacDonald. But, in truth, apart from a Cup final defeat by West Ham in 1975, not since the era of Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson and George Cohen, has there been anything sparkling on view other than the Thames on a sunlit day.

Yesterday's thoroughly merited eclipse of the Premiership joint-leaders Aston Villa - with Stan Collymore missing, apparently gone awol - will have convinced even the most cynical to start taking Fulham seriously again 31 years since they were among the elite. While this may be considered a welcome diversion from Kevin Keegan's grand plan of achieving Premiership status by 2000, it was much more than a providential day out for the "underdogs" who head the Second Division.

Under "wor Kev", as he was known on Tyneside, but who has become "our Kev" on the north bank of the Thames, it was confirmation of the substantial progress they have made, hinted at even in defeat at Liverpool in the Worthington Cup this season, and confirmed by the victory over Southampton in the last round. As the chief operating officer, to give him his official title, declared afterwards: "You've got to look back to the history of this football club over the last 20 years to know what today means. It takes us on to the next stage. We're going places and the momentum is with us."

Frankly, they won with finesse, a bit of a swagger, and no mean degree of defensive discipline, something that tends to be considered anathema to Keegan when his five years at Newcastle are ever debated.

As a slightly chastened John Gregory conceded: "Fulham did not surprise me. They defended exceptionally well. Their heroes were their three central defenders. But this is very hard to take and we're not happy with ourselves."

Fulham's goals could not have been more fittingly appropriated, the first arriving from the head of Birmingham-born Simon Morgan, who has been at Craven Cottage for nine years, an eternity in the recent history of the club; the second from Steve Hayward, who hails from a family of Villa fanatics. Ironically, they were the only players in the starting line- up who pre-dated the arrival of Keegan, whose transformation of the club, albeit with the benefit of pounds 10m from owner Mohamed Al Fayed, who missed the game because of illness, has been radical.

Villa never looked quite themselves, with supporters arriving to find Collymore, who had vented his displeasure at being named as substitute twice in succesion, not even on the bench, and that despite scoring twice in the defeat of Hull in the previous round and with Dion Dublin also out injured. In fact, it transpired that Collymore was not even there, having apparently taken umbrage when Gregory informed him on Friday that he would not be in the starting line-up. Later, the Villa manager was reticent over the circumstances of Collymore's absence.

"I don't want to comment", "he's not injured" and "ever since I came to the club I've given him a lot of support" followed by a confirmation from Gregory that he switched substitutes before the game was the limit of his revelations on the pounds 7.5m man. It seems this is "another fine mess" for Stanley and Villa to resolve.

Keegan's ideals made it certain that there would be no mean, rearguard action from the Londoners in front of a 35,260 crowd. Though it was inevitable that there would be a policy of containment in the second half, there was no absence of adventure, with Paul Peschisolido, better known to dismissive Villa fans as "Mr Karren Brady", and his strike partner Geoff Horsfield giving Villa's defence a torrid time.

In the first few minutes, Keegan had tried to give the impression that he was relaxed, sitting with his feet up on an advertising hoarding, arms crossed, but it did not take long to bring him to his feet. Fulham won a corner on the right, Hayward swung the ball out, and in front of 4,000 visiting supporters Morgan headed powerfully into the top corner of the net. The OTT celebrations were perfectly understandable.

Yet, while Gregory's men, inevitably, forced the issue, with Julian Joachim, an England squad contender for next month's France friendly, providing the principal threat, it was Fulham who came close to extending their lead. Again, it was a corner that unsettled Villa, this time Chris Coleman the executor with another header, but as Peschisolido attempted to force the ball in it struck the post and Gareth Barry was able to clear.

It was only a temporary reprieve; a minute before half-time, Hayward's free-kick took a grotesque deflection, but that did not trouble him at all as the Walsall lad, who was on Villa's books as a schoolboy, gleefully watched the ball ricochet into the unprotected corner of Michael Oakes' goal. After the interval there were precious few opportunities for Villa to claw their way back. Towards the end a powerful header by Ian Taylor was turned away with spectacular athleticism by his namesake Maik. But by then, there was so much assurance about Fulham's play that even one goal would not have dented their confidence.