Aston Villa 1 Fulham 1: Fulham play happy families to clear up away-day blues

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The Independent Football

Chris Coleman continues to toil away admirably. His rugged Fulham team, missing several first-team regulars, look a far stronger one than last season.

The side from west London have now taken six points from their away fixtures this season, one less than the whole of the last campaign. The latest point arrived at a wet Villa Park.

"We've changed a lot in terms of our preparation," Coleman said. "We've tried to travel as much as we can on the day of the game so that the players can spend more time with their families. It is not really what I want, but it's what gets them in the right frame of mind when they cross that line on a Saturday afternoon. We asked for some feedback and that's put the ball in their court because we have given them what they want so they have to perform. To be fair, they have."

The Villa doommongers may point to this result as a clear example that the early optimism generated by the coming of Martin O'Neill is starting to fade. Against Fulham, they were poor and disjointed. However, they are still unbeaten and whatever their true strength, they remain on course to equal a club record of 12 games undefeated, set in 1998.

Villa's first-half efforts were rewarded on 26 minutes, albeit with a questionable penalty decision. The Bulgarian midfielder Stilian Petrov was fouled in the area by Liam Rosenior. On closer inspection, the young Fulham full-back and his captain, Zat Knight, who earned a yellow card for his protests, did have a case.

Coleman later applauded Petrov's "clever play" in engineering the situation. Villa's midfielder Gareth Barry stepped up to lash in the penalty.

"It is hard enough to come here, anyway, the way that Villa are playing with lots of confidence," Coleman said. "The last thing they need is a free penalty. So that was hard to swallow. You can see the reaction from Zat Knight. He got booked for dissent. We have a policy that anyone that gets booked for dissent or sent off will get heavily fined but I am not going to fine him for that. He was totally right.

"But to come back from that was pleasing. We made it hard for Villa and I was pleased the way that we fought for 90 minutes."

The visitors continued to persevere and with first-half injury time looming, Villa eased off. Fulham took advantage and equalised, through Moritz Volz, the German ghosting in at the back post to convert Tomasz Radzinski's cross.

The second half was a dour, forgettable affair. O'Neill brought on the former Celtic pair Didier Agathe and Chris Sutton, but neither sparkled. Gabriel Agbonlahor and Barry both impressed with some assured play while the England manager Steve McClaren was in attendance to take note.

Fulham, however, seemed content with the point, and try as they may, Villa seemed unwilling and unable to conjure any more goalscoring opportunities.

Goals: Barry pen (26) 1-0; Volz (45) 1-1.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Laursen, Ridgewell; Agbonlahor, Davis (Osbourne, 83), Petrov, Barry; Angel (Sutton, 75), Baros (Agathe, 46). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Bouma.

Fulham (4-5-1): Niemi; Rosenior, Knight, Pearce, Queudrue; Brown, Bocanegra, Volz, C Jensen, Radzinski; McBride (John, 72). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Helguson, Zakuani, Routledge.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Fulham Knight, Queudrue.

Man of the match: Barry.

Attendance: 30,919.