Hendrie's hot shot eases Villa striker shortage

Aston Villa 2 - Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

Without a single pre-Christmas Premiership goal last season and with only one in the League so far this, Darius Vassell is not looked on as prolific.

But the news that he has been found to have a broken ankle leaves Aston Villa with a worrying shortage up front until January's transfer window.

The injury that forced the England forward off on a stretcher in this low-quality contest showed up in X-rays to be a break that will keep him out for three months.

It's a further strain on David O'Leary's goal-scoring department at a time when the manager is hoping to land James Beattie in the new year in the wake of releasing or selling Dion Dublin, Peter Crouch and Marcus Allback.

Vassell, hurt in a routine challenge from Papa Bouba Diop on a treacherous surface, gave way to Carlton Cole for the last third of this laborious disposal of feeble Fulham.

And it's just as well Villa have the effervescent Lee Hendrie in terrific shooting form to shoulder some of the burden.

The midfielder, described by O'Leary as "28 going on 18" because of the unsavoury off-field headlines he continues to attract, has followed up his BBC "goal of the month" award for September with gems on successive Saturdays against Arsenal and Fulham.

Although that's the only way those two London clubs are likely to be mentioned in the same breath for now, the left-foot curler that gave Villa their first win in six Premiership attempts was of a standard this scruffy game barely deserved.

Hendrie, who was apparently on the way out of Villa Park when O'Leary arrived 17 months ago, said: "Football is like an escape. The gaffer doesn't like my name in the papers, nor do I. He's told me he's there if I ever want to talk. He's been fantastic and I hope his contract is sorted out soon because he's been good for me and all of us."

Villa's breakthrough had also come from a midfielder, Nobby Solano, whose bending free-kick carried just enough power to beat Edwin van der Sar and set Fulham on the slippery slope towards a third successive defeat.

They lost Ian Pearce early - injured this time, not as another addition to their formidable red-card tally - and the central defence of Zat Knight and substitute Zesh Rehman they had from then on weren't exactly rushed off their feet.

Even with Andy Cole back from suspension as captain though, Fulham were poor, and Tomasz Radzinski's "tweaking" of a hamstring at half-time shortly before he was to go on as a substitute summed up their afternoon. "When you are in a dogfight, you must fight and work like dogs," said their manager, Chris Coleman. "I'm fed up of saying we have a good enough squad. We have to show it."

Goals: Solano (28) 1-0; Hendrie (76) 2-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Simonsen; De La Cruz, Delaney, Mellberg, Samuel; Solano, McCann, Hendrie (Hitzlsperger, 87), Whittingham (Davis, 78); Angel, Vassell (Cole, 63). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Ridgewell.

Fulham (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Pearce (Rehman, 10), Bocanegra; Malbranque, Jensen (John, 69), Diop, Pembridge, Boa Morte; Cole (McBride, 88). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Radzinski.

Referee: P Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent).

Booked: Fulham: Volz.

Man of the match: Hendrie.

Attendance: 34,460.