Hendrie strike extends Fulham's losing streak

Aston Villa 2 - Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

Lee Hendrie's third cracking goal in four games wrapped up the victory for Aston Villa against a Fulham side whose efforts, for the most part, were as dismal as the wet weather.

Lee Hendrie's third cracking goal in four games wrapped up the victory for Aston Villa against a Fulham side whose efforts, for the most part, were as dismal as the wet weather.

Though the squelchy going underfoot was certainly not conducive to flowing football, Villa managed to put together enough decent stuff to deserve the points, their first win in six matches, and never looked like relinquishing them after Nolberto Solano's free-kick put them in front midway through the first half.

So Fulham's season limps on. It is 31 years since they last won at Villa Park, and their hopes of ending that dismal statistic received an early setback when the central defender Ian Pearce limped off with only 10 minutes played.

Pearce had injured himself in trying to block the first decent move of the match when Solano, just over the halfway line, sent Vassell haring away. The low shot, skidding off the saturated surface, was competently held by Edwin van der Sar but in trying to put in a blocking tackle, Pearce damaged knee ligaments.

A rash of Villa corners earned them nothing, mainly because they were invariably poorly directed, but Villa profited from the next set-piece. The Senegalese Papa Bouba Diop brought down Hendrie near the edge of the penalty box and Solano, back in the Villa side following international duty in South America, struck a perfect free-kick over the wall. Van der Sar managed to get a hand on it but could do no more than help the shot into the top left-hand corner of the net.

For a while, as they rearranged their defence to combat the loss of Pearce, Fulham were in a state of near-panic and Zat Knight sliced one wild kick over his own bar. It was not until a minute before half-time that Fulham managed a shot, inevitably from the hard-working Steed Malbranque, and it sailed wide.

Villa could have extended the lead early in the second half as Juan Pablo Angel did well to knock down a cross from the left to Vassell, who could not control it before being closed down. For a while after that, Fulham got into the match. They were unlucky to win nothing more than a corner as a Claus Jensen free-kick struck Hendrie's extended arm, and three times Luis Boa Morte opted to dive in search of a penalty rather than try a shot. The referee, Phil Dowd, was not impressed by the quality of any of them.

Vassell was stretchered off just past the hour with an ankle injury after being brought down by Diop and his replacement, Carlton Cole, was the one who provided the opening for Villa's second goal with a quarter of an hour to go.

Cole's short, square pass into Hendrie's stride was collected and then curled sweetly and left-footed just inside the far upright. It was a glorious strike from a hot player to whom the crowd rose. The Villa manager, David O'Leary, said, "It was refreshing to hear the crowd cheering Lee. When I first came here they were booing him."

Breaking their winless sequence was crucial, O'Leary felt. "After the élite bunch at the top of the table there is a group of us and when we play each other it is important we win, and that's what we did today. Win a few of these games and you shoot up the League."

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