Dreary more than Deadly sums up leaderless Villa

Fulham 0 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Football

The team John Gregory left behind ground their way to a second drab goalless draw since his departure, following Wednesday's shell-shocked effort at home to Everton with a more confident, though no more exciting performance at Craven Cottage. Only briefly, in the second half, were Villa under any great pressure, Barry Hayles' misses emphasising why Fulham, bursting with goals last season, have now scored fewer than one per game in the Premiership.

"We want Ellis out" was heard as soon as the game began from the visiting supporters and immediately it finished. The man himself, searching for the 13th manager of his 27 years in charge of the club, stood beaming in the directors' box next to Mohamed Al Fayed, with Roy Hodgson, who had touted himself for the Derby County job, not far away. Unlike Al Fayed, the Villa chairman wisely declined a scarf-waving tour of the pitch.

Both men had more to think about than shout about after a poor afternoon's entertainment, which, as is usually the case, satisfied the away team more than their opponents. "We're getting on the bus disappointed not to have the three points," said Stuart Gray, who, with John Deehan, is temporarily running the show after Graham Taylor had made it clear on Friday that he was not keen to take the job on a short-term basis.

Fulham's followers, growing used to unbroken success, were all the more disenchanted that such a meagre showing should come immediately after a dismal 1-0 defeat at Ipswich that, according to the players, brought a rare outburst from their normally composed manager Jean Tigana. He dropped Bjarne Goldbaek, with Hayles returning to a front three who interchanged regularly but with little success.

One excellent Scandinavian goalkeeper deputised for another for Villa, the injured Dane Peter Schmeichel making way for the Finn, Peter Enckelman, who had nothing to do for more than half an hour as Villa made much the more confident start, profiting from the home side's costly habit of giving the ball away. Fulham's followers, initially noisy, soon quietened down and had their patience tested by the team's carelessness on a soft, sandy pitch which, admittedly, does not help their passing game. Apart from Louis Saha getting a toe to Steve Marlet's headed flick to give Enckelman a comfortable catch, the only real talking point of a wretched first half was yet another yellow card for a Fulham player for diving; this time Saha was the offender.

Mercifully, the second half was brighter, with genuine chances at either end. Within two minutes of the restart, a powerful low drive by Fulham's lanky Zat Knight demanded a fine save from Enckelman, pushing it round a post. Villa soon responded, Darius Vassell playing a neat one-two with Juan Pablo Angel and forcing Edwin van der Sar to save with his foot as Lee Hendrie stepped out of the way to avoid being given offside.

It was a little hard on Knight to be taken off just after the hour, but Tigana wanted to change the shape of his misfiring team and get Goldbaek out wide on the right. Coincidentally or not, Fulham continued to improve; Hayles had a shot beaten out by the goalkeeper after being set up by Steed Malbranque's storming diagonal run and passed up another chance eight minutes later as Tigana's cultured side took the most direct route to goal imaginable. Van der Sar pumped a huge kick downfield, which Hayles controlled but lobbed over the bar.

Villa's supporters booed the substitution of Angel, but Paul Merson, moved forward, almost created a winner for their team with his pass to Vassell; the striker wastefully shooting straight at Van der Sar. It all ended in jeers for the home side and, predictably for their opponents, more of "We want Ellis out".

Fulham 0 Aston Villa 0

Attendance: 20,041

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