It's easy to be of two minds about this result. On the one hand, of course Aston Villa drew Fulham. They're Fulham; it's kind of what they do. On the other hand, Fulham were terrible in the first half and their performance was begging for Villa to take complete control of the game. Instead the teams went into the half with only John Pantsil's own-goal separating them. It wasn't an easy feeling heading into the break, and for good reason; Fulham have been playing well as of late, and such a terrible performance did not seem at all sustainable. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't. Fulham were level just seven minutes in to the second after Brad Friedel did poorly to clear Steve Sidwell's long-range effort and Andy Johnson was there to knock in the rebound.
An uneventful 20 minutes ensued, with neither team managing to do much in the way of creating chances but Fulham clearly the better side by some measure. Kyle Walker managed to wake everyone up in the 71st minute when he managed to dribble past several defenders into space and let fly with a low, driven shot from distance that made its way past Schwarzer and put Villa ahead 2-1 out of nowhere and very much against the run of play. There was far less time to enjoy the lead in this instance as just seven minutes later Clint Dempsey managed to out-leap the entirety of the Villa defense and the outstretched hands of Brad Friedel to head home from Murphy's cross. It was an excellent bit of finishing and a stunning display of athleticism by Dempsey, but the blame really must fall to Friedel in this instance; his feet were barely off the ground when Dempsey connected and for a keeper known for his skill in the air it was really a poor display.
To be honest Friedel was largely to blame for both goals and as a result for Villa dropping points. The defense wasn't really at all that poor today; the organization and shape was good and Collins and Dunne both made a couple of excellent plays to stop dangerous passages of play. The shot that led to Johnson's goal really should have been held or at the very least parried wide and the corner that led to Dempsey's should have most likely been punched away harmlessly. Friedel did make a few very nice saves and he's been an absolute rock this season, but it's frustrating to miss out on points when both goals almost certainly shouldn't have happened. It's unfortunate that Friedel didn't have the game he had today on Tuesday and saved that performance for this afternoon; I'd far rather have allowed a couple more to United and taken all three points today that. Alas, it doesn't really work that way.
The last fifteen minutes or so were heated and more than a little chippy with a late flurry of rash challenges and bookings on both sides, but in the end the 2-2- scoreline would hold. It was a frustrating display to say the least. There really should have been little doubt about the outcome as the teams headed into the half, but despite the addition of Darren Bent Villa still find themselves completely unable to break down defenses. This is an attack that is dangerous on the counter and a threat from set pieces, but there is absolutely no danger when in possession in the final third. It's far, far more likely to see them retreat than to create any pressure through the middle. There's no creativity at all in the attacking midfield. Ashley Young is an excellent player, but he's not especially clever. Darren Bent is n unparalleled goal poacher and a clinical finisher, but he's not the kind of forward that creates chances for himself. Albrighton and Downing are both dangerous crossers of the ball but when the opposition knows that the cross is all that needs to be defended against it becomes far less threatening a weapon. Villa's attack is crying out for a creative, playmaking force in the center. Jean Makoun is a brilliant player and he'll be a tremendous help for us but he is a playmaker of the deep-lying variety and his delivery is not nearly so dangerous in the final third against a bunkered defense. I'm not sure what Barry Bannan has done to fall out of favor, but whatever it is he needs to fix it because Villa really could have used him today.
It's also worth noting that Gabriel Agbonlahor seems to have completely lost it. Some might claim that his being out of position is the cause, but they would do well to remember that prior to Bent being brought in Gabby was still playing centrally and was playing just as terribly. Gabby isn't a good crosser, he's not the world's best finisher, he's not especially good at holding up play and his distribution is nothing to write home about. What he is (or at least was) is ridiculously fast. He seems to have decided that bulking up is clearly worth the loss of some of of that speed, but you've got to think he's having second thoughts about that belief these days. That extra gear that saw him get behind so many defenses in the early part of his career just doesn't seem to be there any more, and without it he's simply not at all a good player. I think Gabby on the wing, flying down the touchline and cutting in on goal can work, but it can't work with the current model. If he wants to turn himself into Cameron Jerome then that's his choice, but it's a choice that should see him sitting on the bench in favor of Albrighton or Heskey.
- Stilyan Petrov is awful. I don't have anything to add to that; he just sucks and needs to go away.
- Kyle Walker is thrilling to watch, but he's definitely got some development to do. It's all well and good that he's capable of flying past defenders and working his way into good positions from which to cross the ball, but the fact that he's a terrible crosser of the ball is a little bit of a problem. He'd also do well to remember that he is in fact a defender and concentrate on getting back to cover rather than complaining to the referee when he's dispossessed.
- Steve Sidwell really, really, really wanted to score today. He didn't of course, because he's Steve Sidwell, but it was pretty cute watching him try. Until Johnson scored off of his rebound.
- Jean Makoun is playing a different game than the opposition. Unfortunately he is also playing a different game than his teammates. If they don't catch up to him soon, maybe Houllier should consider hitting him in the head with something moderately hard before every game.
So, a disappointing and frustrating result. The good news is that Villa still managed to take a point and that nothing I saw really worries me going forward. We've know that this team is bad at breaking down defenses, so that's not exactly anything new. They looked confident and alive for the majority of the game, the defense was back to looking solid and though Villa had the opportunity to win, Fulham is really, really good at holding on to draws. It's not what anyone wanted to see, but it happens. Here's to hoping that Houllier can see what the rest of us do with regards to Petrov and un-grounds Barry Bannan before Blackpool next Saturday.