Match Report: Chris Baird lifts Fulham but adds to Aston Villa’s relegation worries

Fulham 1 Aston Villa 0

Craven Cottage

Ultimately, Fulham went to the back to go forwards. Despite a game and a build-up dominated by attackers, it was a player known more for his defensive qualities who decided this clash with Aston Villa.

Chris Baird did what the impressive Dimitar Berbatov and ineffective Darren Bent could not and struck brilliantly to secure a late win for Fulham and fuel their ambitious bid for European qualification. Villa, meanwhile, will become even more anxious about a potential relegation battle.

Despite such different prospects, though, there actually is not all that much between the teams on the evidence of this encounter. It was the very definition of mid-table. And, in that, it also offered performances that pretty much defined these teams’ seasons so far. Villa were compact and cohesive enough to suggest they should manage to avoid trouble but may well invite it as a simple consequence of the fact they don’t actually offer all that much in attack.

By contrast, Fulham were excellent to watch if a little too open. The quality of some of their attacking is the natural product of having so much technical talent in the team, with Berbatov the focal point.

It was not just the perfection of the Bulgarian’s touches, but the purpose of them. Although he was often accused of merely decorating games rather than dominating them at Manchester United, the less pressurised surroundings of Craven Cottage seem to have sufficiently calmed Berbatov to rediscover his sense of conviction. Here, he caused Villa all manner of problems.

Within four minutes, both he and Kieran Richardson had brought fine saves out of Brad Guzan, with Mladen Petric then heading narrowly over.

But while it may seem like Villa are something of a soft touch due to the fact they have endured their worst start since 1986, that is not quite the case on the pitch itself.

Midway through the first half, Ron Vlaar sent Berbatov crashing to the ground. Not only did it interrupt that attack, it appeared to ruin Fulham’s entire rhythm. From there, Villa regrouped and Gabriel Agbonlahor even came close to breaking the deadlock. Bent may not have been there to take advantage but, at the very least, he was on the pitch.

The striker has provided  Villa’s main talking point over the past few weeks due to a perceived cool relationship with the manager Paul Lambert but, yesterday, he did not exactly offer much to shout about.

In many ways, Bent illustrates the big problem for old-fashioned strikers in the modern game. Although he offers goals, the lack of variety in the rest of his play actually constricts teams. Other than a flash in the second half, he was rarely involved in the build-up play and Villa often bypassed him.

For his part, Lambert revealed Christian Benteke was rested because of two hard games with Belgium but said he thought Bent “did fine and he worked well with Agbonlahor”.

Not well enough though. The only surprise when Lambert hauled him off for Benteke after 75 minutes was that the change did not come sooner.

Fulham’s manager Martin Jol, meanwhile, lamented the fact that his side did not make good on their own fine play earlier. Eventually, though, a midfield player who is not exactly used to scoring capitalised.

On 85 minutes, Baird used Berbatov as a decoy to stab home John Arne Riise’s delivery.

“It was probably the worst corner I’ve ever seen,” Jol joked afterwards. That didn’t matter to Baird. Nor did it matter to the Dutchman that it took so long to come. “It was a result that was probably ground out but I don’t care. We needed the points.”

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Rodallega, Sidwell (Karagounis, 84), Baird, Richardson (Dejagah, 70); Berbatov, Petric (Diarra, 64).

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Baker  (Lichaj, 62), Bennett; Holman, El Ahmadi, Ireland (N’Zogbia, 66), Delph; Agbonlahor, Bent (Benteke, 75).

Referee: Chris Foy

Man of the match: Berbatov (Fulham)

Match rating: 6/10

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain