Martin O'Neill expends so much energy running, jumping and skipping up and down the touchline that there cannot be many parts of the ground he has not visited. But surely he has never finished a match watching from the press box before, as he did after being shown a red card yesterday. Not as a manager, anyway.
Indeed, it would have been interesting to read the Ulsterman's intro after Aston Villa fought back against a Fulham side who watched in agony as they lost a game they had led for the third time this season and did so with a burningsense of injustice after a blatant penalty was waved away. Something along the lines of "why did we not win it earlier?" in all probability.
In the event, it was one of O'Neill's young charges from Celtic Park who gave Villa their first win of their campaign. In the second minute of extra time Shaun Maloney strode on to Ashley Young's exquisite pass to bury the poor visitors, who had played the last 20 minutes with 10 men. "I thought it was too late in the day," admitted O'Neill. "But we were exhilarating going forward and I thought we deserved it."
Fulham would no doubt disagree, and they undoubtedly began the brighter. In the sixth minute the Texan Clint Dempsey made the most of a Diomansy Kamara through-ball to fire in his left-footer from 12 yards.Villa were jolted, althoughhardly into life, with John Carew particularly wasteful.
Fulham, meanwhile, were yet again berating something more tangible than fortune. Craig Gardner clearly handballed in the six-yard box as Kamara tried to double the advantage in the 30th minute. Oh, for video evidence, scream the martyrs of the Cottage. "I've just seen it and it was bang to rights," said Lawrie Sanchez afterwards, obviously struggling to come to terms with it coming on the back of last week's "goal that never was". "At 2-0 Villa wouldn't have won the game, but the ref didn't give it and it's another major error."
Ironically, it was O'Neill who was moaning the loudest and most vehemently as they walked off, his rant at Steve Bennett earning him a trip to the grandstand. "I will apologise to the referee, as he's right," said O'Neill. "I shouldn't be berating match officials in public." Actually, O'Neill took up residence with the journalists just behind the dug-out, and from that privileged position witnessed a frenetic start to a second half. The lively Luke Moore went close with a 25-yarder, while a minute later Kamara went even closer when he bent one from the edge of the area that rebounded off the post.
But it was Young's piece of magic in the 51st minute that had O'Neill up dancing and so blocking a few hacks' line of sight. The winger stole in on the byline and somehow beat the angle to find the inside of Kasey Keller's far post. The winger then proceededto lead the Villa siege. Chris Baird received his second yellow for upending Young in the 69th minute, and from there it was only a matter of time.
It almost ran out, mind you, and had Scott Carson not repelled Dempsey's late header then so would their gaffer's patience. But the substitute Maloney was waiting and O'Neill was happy, shaking hands in the press box.Reuse content