Fulham hero Baird buries Villa
Cottagers leave it late to defeat visitors
Last Updated: 20/10/12 7:21pm
Fulham continued their excellent run at Craven Cottage thanks to a late Chris Baird goal to defeat Aston Villa.
Martin Jol's side have now recorded five wins from their last six games at home with the Northern Irishman netting the winner six minutes from time.
John Arne Riise's inswinging corner was met by the defender who stole in at the near post to slot the ball past Brad Guzan for only his third goal on his 150th appearance for the club.
Villa's chances were few and far between, but their best chance of the match came immediately after the opening goal.
They went straight down the other end through Charles N'Zogbia and his cross found substitute Christian Benteke in space, but the in-form striker somehow fired his right-foot shot wide from close-range.
Fulham had been the better side, with Dimitar Berbatov in commanding form on his comeback from a hip injury, but they had failed to convert a hatful of chances.
- Man of the match: A number of players could have taken the award, but full-back John Arne Riise showed at the age of 32, that he still has a gear or two to get up and down the field as well as defend like a Trojan.
- Goal of the match: The man they call "Bairdinho" scored the only goal of the game as his deft touch to Riise's near-post corner beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
- Miss of the match: Villa had a chance to rescue a point straight after the opening goal but Christian Benteke missed a sitter from close-range dragging Charles N'Zogbia's past the far post.
- Fans of the match: The visiting Villa supporters made themselves heard all afternoon. It was a shame their team could not do them proud on the pitch.
- Stat of the match: Villa have not won on the road in 14 Premier League matches dating back to January now.
Darren Bent failed to make much of an impression - glancing one header wide and otherwise cutting a picture of frustration up front - unlike Berbatov as Villa endured more away day misery.
The serene Bulgarian was immediately into the action, playing a key role as Fulham pressed Guzan into action twice inside the first five minutes.
Berbatov found a yard of space inside the Villa box and turned on Kieran Richardson's pass but Guzan reacted quickly to palm the shot away from an acute angle.
The Bulgarian still has this wonderful ability to play the game at his own pace and he calmly held off the attentions of Nathan Baker to bring Sascha Riether into the box.
The German full-back squeezed a pass through to Richardson six yards out but Guzan blocked his shot and Riether's effort from the rebound went wide.
Baker's response was to hack Berbatov down from behind, which seemed just about the only way Villa were going to win the ball off him today.
Fulham appeared capable of scoring every time they were in possession.
Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell anchored the midfield and they always hadrunners, with John Arne Riise and Riether given the freedom to attack from full-back and stretch Villa.
At times Fulham played with five attackers as Richardson, Hugo Rodallega and the busy Mladen Petric supported Berbatov in causing Villa problems.
Brede Hangeland ran out of defence and slid a pass to Berbatov, who clipped a magnificent cross on the turn towards Baird but the header was wide.
Gabriel Agbonlahor created Villa's first opportunity himself, cutting in from the left before unleashing a deflected shot which brought a diving save from Mark Schwarzer.
Bent could not get enough on Matthew Lowton's cross from the right wing and his glancing header drifted harmlessly wide but that was as close as Villa came in the first half.
Riise whipped one cross in for Berbatov, who did well to force a save from Guzan, and then another for Rodallega but the Colombian headed wide.
Agbonlahor was working hard for Villa and he tried to pick out Bent in the Fulham box but Sidwell, enjoying a strong game against his old club, was on hand to intercept.
Villa started the second-half brightly, with Agbonlahor heading over the bar from Lowton's cross but Fulham still looked the more likely team to score.
Karim El Ahmadi was booked for a foul on Berbatov that checked a Fulham counter-attack.
Berbatov failed to make decent contact as he attempted an acrobatic volley after Rodallega's cross had fallen to him at the far post.
Villa failed to clear their lines properly and it required a brave block from Lowton to deny Richardson, before Bent was replaced by Benteke.
Ashkan Dejagah came on for Fulham to make his debut and was quickly in the thick of the action, stinging Guzan's hands with a 25-yard drive after some sublime build-up play.
Then came the breakthrough. Baird stole in front of Eric Lichaj, Fabian Delph and Bennett to get a touch to Riise's corner and beat Guzan at the near post.
The reaction inside Craven Cottage as much one of relief as celebration - although that should have been cut short immediately.
Charles N'Zogbia squared the ball to Benteke six yards out but he inexplicably failed to hit the target and with that miss went Villa's hopes of a point.
|Fulham||Team Statistics||Aston Villa|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||1|
|10||Shots off Target||7|
|47.7||1st Half Poss.||52.3|
|53.3||2nd Half Poss.||46.7|
Barclays Premier League
|4||West Ham United||17||31|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||17||17|
|16||Queens Park Rangers||17||17|
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