Aston Villa came into the Craven Cottage riding the high of a 2-3 victory at St. Mary's on Wednesday. Fulham, on the other hand, had given up points to a not-really-in-the-best-form Tottenham. Especially given that it would be played away from Villa Park, it looked as if this were a match where Villa could nab a point or three. Without Ron Vlaar in the back, though, things looked pretty bleak from the beginning. Villa kept with their mid-week gameplan: giving up possession, absorbing attacks, and bombing forward on the counter. A couple of times it produced nice results, but when you've got a slapdash back line, it may not work.
In the 21st minute, Fulham put on a string of nice pressure and Leandro Bacuna couldn't defend well. The result was Steve Sidwell hitting a weak ball past a probably-out-of-position Brad Guzan for Fulham's opening goal:
To my mind most of the blame there goes to Bacuna, but it wasn't Guzan's best showing. Here's another angle:
Then, with Fulham on the attack again, Bacuna's poor day struck again. He made an awkward tackle while Fulham were charging into the box. The contact was light, the fall was quick, and normally it's not a penalty. But this time the ref thought it was. Dimitar Berbatov stepped to the spot and cooly slotted Fulham's second home:
I don't think the penalty should've been given, but it wasn't clear either way. Bacuna put himself in the position to get it called though, which was pretty dumb.
In the second half, Aleksandar Tonev replaced Karim El Ahmadi, but not much changed for Villa. They began by pressing a bit more, but as a result looked even more vulnerable in the defensive portion of the game. One of the storylines that began in the first half but took an almost comically exaggerated turn in the final 45 was Ashley Westwood's complete inability to take a useful set piece. And yet, for some reason, Paul Lambert kept going back to him in those situations.
And before we all knew it, the match was over. Villa looked poor, that's absolutely certain. But let's not forget that they were playing with a back four that was missing three of their first choices. I'm not sure Villa would have ever scored, but I'm also pretty sure neither goal would have gone in. A poor 90 minutes, but it really doesn't change anything we know about this club. Paul Lambert doesn't deserve to be sacked from this, Villa's style aren't really any different, etc. etc. etc. If you hear anyone making pronouncements about this match being a breaking point, ignore them. Eventually they will stop talking and your life will be better.