Pity Diomansy Kamara. After a season spent either in the treatment room or on the bench he scored twice yesterday on his first start of the campaign. Trouble is Fulham have only two games left for him to enjoy being in form and favour. Come August the whole picture may have changed.
That will be especially so if Fulham are in the Europa League, a prospect enhanced by Kamara's second-half brace. Given their slim squad reinforcements would be required, which will increase competition for places and make managing both the squad and the Premier League campaign more problematic.
Their opponents are proof of that. Aston Villa began their season in mid-summer in the Intertoto Cup. This led to the Uefa Cup but, when a place in the Champions' League looked feasible, they sacrificed that. In the event the Champions' League proved beyond their reach and what has been a good season is drifting to a close accompanied by a sense of what might have been.
"It is a tough old season and there are a few lessons to be learned," said their manager Martin O'Neill. "We need a squad capable of dealing not only with domestic football but the extra games in Europe."
Roy Hodgson, like O'Neill, has stuck to the same XI where possible and this was the first time neither Andrew Johnson nor Bobby Zamora were in attack. Given that their combined output is seven goals from 62 league starts this might seem overdue, but they were only omitted through injury. Johnson (knee) did not make the 18; Zamora (hip) was on the bench.
Hodgson has kept faith because of their contribution to Fulham's season cannot be measured in goals alone. Johnson and Zamora have been the first line of a very effective defence both showing a prodigious work-rate. The challenge, for Kamara and Erik Nevland, was to match their effort, and add a goal threat. This they did. Nevland had already tested Brad Friedel with a diving header when, in the fifth minute, he was involved in a move which ended with James Milner bundling over Kamara. Penalty but no other sanction for Milner who could have been sent off. Danny Murphy despatched the spot-kick but the value of Milner's escape became apparent nine minutes later when he delivered a cross which Ashley Young met at the back post to level.
The rest of the period was even, Friedel saving from Zoltan Gera and Ashley Young striking the post following a typical Villa counter-attack, but Fulham took command after the break. Kamara scored two contrasting goals in 13 minutes. His first was driven in from just inside the box after Gera launched an attack, the second was a delicate flick of the heel after Brede Hangeland headed down a Murphy corner. "He suffered a cruciate ligament injury in June playing for Senegal and has done well to get back to fitness," said Hodgson. "He took his chance with open arms today. It's given me some selection problems."
Martin O'Neill reacted boldly, replacing both full-backs to the displeasure of Nicky Shorey whose slow trudge off brought an angry rebuke from his manager. With four up front Villa chased a recovery but Hangeland was always in control of fellow Norwegian John Carew and Fulham were comfortable.
"It was one of our best performances," said Hodgson. "The two halves were day and night, and we were very poor in the second", admitted O'Neill.
Referee: Mark Halsey
Man of the match: Kamara
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content