Fulham 2 Aston Villa 0 match report: Dimitar Berbatov finds the rhythm to conduct Rene Meulensteen revival

Dutchman took charge of the west Londoners for the second time

It was hard to remember, as Fulham gleefully tore into Aston Villa on Sunday, that the Martin Jol era ended just one week ago. This was only Rene Meulensteen’s second game in charge – and no-one knows how his tenure will turn out – but he seems to have transformed the side already.

Fulham were full of confidence, energy and enthusiasm yesterday and could have beaten Villa by two or three times their winning margin. They started well enough, scoring both their goals within nine first-half minutes, but improved as the game went on, with belief returning to the players and fans, producing some delightful football in a very enjoyable second half.

Coaching is how Meulensteen has made his reputation and that is how he has explained his quick success. “We reassured them on the training pitch, to tell them what’s needed, the hard work and commitment, and instructed how I believe we should play. We were excellent on Wednesday [when Fulham lost 2-1 to Spurs] and the energy was excellent.”

“The players should be delighted with themselves. We were even better today, with the quality going forward.”

Fulham’s best attacking player, and the most important man for Meulensteen’s future at the club, is Dimitar Berbatov, who appeared to be enjoying his football again. This had not been an easy season so far for the striker, and he may well not be at Craven Cottage for much longer, but here he seemed like a man Meulensteen could build around.

Berbatov was involved in the first goal but showed his brilliance for the second. He was in the centre-circle as the ball was cleared upfield towards him. With that combination of imagination, vision and skill that few possess, Berbatov flicked the ball on to Alexander Kacaniklic.

Running into the box, Kacaniklic drew a foul from Leandro Bacuna and referee Mike Dean awarded the penalty. Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, said he was “disappointed” with the decision, understandably, but Berbatov casually rolled the ball into the bottom corner of the net. From there, he played like Fulham’s conductor, directing his team-mates and setting the tempo.

“It shows he cares,” said Meulensteen, who must know that Berbatov is the likeliest player to keep Fulham up, if he can just convince him to stay.

“He makes a difference, absolutely. He was excellent on Wednesday as well, but you saw what he’s capable of out there. I had a good chat with him. Berbatov’s not a stranger. He’s committed to Fulham.”

Berbatov was involved in the first goal, too. Ashkan Dejagah knocked the ball towards Steve Sidwell, running diagonally away from goal. Bacuna was ahead of him but Sidwell was too quick and strong, outmuscling the right-back and producing a surprisingly good left-footed finish to send the ball into the far bottom corner from a tight angle.

The goal had been coming, after Dejagah was denied by a desperate Ciaran Clark tackle, and Kacaniklic had a shot blocked on the line, but it was only after going ahead that their football started to flow. Five minutes after the second goal Brad Guzan made an excellent low save from Berbatov’s stabbed shot.

Fulham were far better in the second half, even though they never managed a third. Berbatov nearly flicked in Dejagah’s low ball from the right before Philippe Senderos headed Kacaniklic’s cross straight at Guzan. Berbatov uncharacteristically sliced a volley into the stands before Giorgos Karagounis made Fabian Delph look like the veteran 36-year-old, skipping past him and shooting just over. John Arne Riise headed against the post before Meulensteen shut down the game with late substitutions.

Aston Villa were barely in it, except for a brief spell at 0-0. Christian Benteke, back in after starting on the bench at Southampton, headed Gabriel Agbonlahor’s cross wide and had a shot saved by Maarten Stekelenburg. That was as threatening as Villa were, with not much creativity from midfield. Lambert, who thought they might have had a penalty for a late trip on Agbonlahor, admitted that they got what they deserved.

“I don’t think we did enough to win the game,” said the Scot, whose five-game unbeaten run is now over.

“I think we looked tired, but I couldn’t fault the lads for effort. You have to hold your hand up sometimes. Five games unbeaten was great. Put it into perspective, we’re still only three points off Manchester United.”

Fulham (4-1-4-1) Stekelenberg 6; Riether, Senderos 7, Hughes 7, Riise 6; Parker 7; Dejagah 7, Sidwell 7, Karagounis 7 (Kasami, 73), Kacanikilic 6 (Duff, 77); Berbatov 8

Villa (4-3-1-2) Guzan 6; Bacuna 3, Herd 4 (Lowton, 81), Clark 5, Baker 5; El Ahmadi 4 (Tonev, 45, 4), Westwood 6, Delph 5; Weimann 5 (Albrighton, 81); Agbonlahor 5, Benteke 4

Man of the match: Berabtov (Fulham)

Match rating: 6/10

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee