Fulham expose gap in Villa's education

Aston Villa 0 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill did not hide his disappointment at his team's failure to leapfrog Manchester United into third place in the table, but the Aston Villa manager insisted there were positives to be taken from Saturday's draw at Villa Park. "We have to remember that we have good players who are in their early twenties," he said. "It's all about learning, but I do think this team can grow into something."

Having just won at Arsenal for the first time in 15 years and taken a point at home to Manchester United for the first time in seven attempts, the Villa faithful no doubt expected more against one of the Premier League's lesser lights. However, given that Villa's two other results last month were defeats to Newcastle and Middlesbrough, perhaps this should have been no surprise.

Villa may be knocking on the door of the top four, but they need to find a way past lesser opponents, particularly those who come to Villa Park ready to defend in numbers. "When Manchester United came they attacked us and there was space in which to play," O'Neill said. "When teams come here and sit in we will have to try to learn."

While Villa could point to the absence of the injured John Carew, their cautious approach also contributed to their failure to break down Fulham. Nearly all of Villa's best moments stemmed from Ashley Young's work on the left flank.

In their last four matches Fulham have beaten Newcastle and Tottenham at home and drawn away to Liverpool and Villa. "We'd been poor on the road and we spoke about being more solid and making it more difficult for teams to score," Danny Murphy said. "The last two weeks we have done it."

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; Cuellar, Davies, Laursen, L Young; Milner, Sidwell, Petrov, Barry, A Young; Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Harewood, Delfouneso, Knight, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner.

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Dempsey, Bullard, Murphy, Davies; Johnson, Zamora (Gera, 85). Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Nevland, Gray, Etuhu, Stoor, Kallio.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Booked: Fulham Dempsey, Pantsil.

Man of the match: A Young.

Attendance: 36,625.