Felix Magath admitted that Fulham’s chances of staying up would have been over if they had lost this match, after Hugo Rodallega fulfilled his pre-match promise to score if he was given the chance. Fulham take on Norwich at home next week with the chance to reduce the gap on the team just above them on the other side of the relegation dotted line to two points after they took advantage of Aston Villa’s wretched home form to record their first away win since Boxing Day.
Fulham’s manager was so gratified by this deserved victory, he gave in to his players’ request for two days off. “They deserved it,” the notoriously tough taskmaster said. “It was very important for us to win here after losing our last home game [to Everton]. I think this was our last chance for us to stay in the League.” Grant Holt had equalised Kieran Richardson’s spectacular opening goal only for Fulham to win the game when Rodallega, on as a half-time substitute, headed in Lewis Holtby’s cross four minutes from time. It was only Fulham’s second win in 14 games but sufficient to raise hopes they can repeat the feat of 2008 when Roy Hodgson led them to four wins in their final six games to survive from the same position they started in yesterday. Spookily, the remaining games are all on exactly the same dates as those at the end of 2007-08.
“For us to win in the last five minutes is a signal to everybody that we are back in the league,” Magath added. “Everyone at the game could see we want to stay in this League. We have to win our games now. It doesn’t matter which team will come. We need to win three of the last games at least to stay in the League. Today we are winning and this win will give us confidence.”
The first half was cautious as Villa, having lost Christian Benteke for six months with a ruptured Achilles, Gabriel Agbonlahor to a virus, Fabian Delph to a slight Achilles injury and Karim El-Ahmadi to a thigh strain, looked content to play for the point that might have suited Fulham at any other stage of the season. But the shackles came off in a rip-roaring second half as Magath introduced Rodallega and Ashkan Dejagah and pushed Richardson forward on the left wing. Suddenly the game was open and end-to-end.
Leandro Bacuna, picking up Holt’s knockdown from Ron Vlaar’s long pass, ran in from wide right to force a good save from David Stockdale who then held high Andreas Weimann’s powerful shot from Holt’s pull-back.
But Fulham were infused with greater belief, and when Dejagah squared the ball from the right Richardson unleashed a cracking left-footed shot into the far top corner from the edge of the penalty area. Richardson was an integral part of West Bromwich Albion’s great escape round these parts in 2005 but then Rodallega scored Wigan Athletic’s status-saving goal up the road at Stoke City three years ago.
So after Holt equalised with his first Villa goal, finding freedom in the penalty area to head in Marc Albrighton’s corner with 20 minutes remaining, the matchwinner was a suitable hero.
Holtby had an effort cleared off the line by Matt Lowton after dribbling round Brad Guzan but with four minutes remaining came Rodallega’s first Premier League goal of the season, a moment that keeps Fulham’s hopes alive.
“He has shown in the training stations he is in a good shape,” Magath said. “I asked him today if he comes in will he be in good shape and he said yes and that he will score. The atmosphere from our fans, they supported us for 90 minutes, [was important] and you can imagine now how the players in the locker room are happy, happy. They forced me to give them two days off so I have. They deserved it after today.”
Aston Villa (4-3-1-2): Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett (Tonev, 66); Albrighton (Bowery, 90), Westwood, Bertrand; Bacuna; Weimann, Holt.
Fulham (4-5-1): Stockdale; Heitinga, Hangeland, Amorebieta, Richardson; Holtby, Sidwell, Diarra, Riether, Kasami (Dejagah, h-t); Woodrow (Rodallega, h-t).
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: Rodallega (Fulham)
Match rating: 6/10
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