It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Fulham came to Villa Park dead last in the Premier League table. Sure, they'd beaten Newcastle a couple weeks back, but since then the Cottagers had been destroyed by Manchester City and easily overcome by Everton. Surely Aston Villa could get a win, once and for all killing off this season's talk of relegation.
The hosts took an early lead, thanks to an eighth minute header by Karim El Ahmadi. Marc Albrighton sent in a gorgeous cross, the ball seemingly hanging in the air while the Moroccan easily slipped between Brede Hangeland and Johnny Heitinga.
Villa, to their credit, refused to sit back after taking the lead, perhaps mindful of their last two losses. But in the 21st minute, the visitors caught out the Villa with a quick counter-attack. Leandro Bacuna was unable to get back in time, giving Kiaran Richardson plenty of room to pelt down the left. Richardson rolled the ball across the face of goal as Steve Sidwell flew in, tapping in the equalizer.
Fulham, knowing they were fighting for survival, continued to push hard after the break. Ten minutes after the restart, Felix Magath made a double switch, replacing Richardson with young Cauley Woodrow and pushing him up front to play alongside Darren Bent, on for the even younger Moussa Dembele.
When Bent moved to Fulham on loan, no one at the club inserted a clause into his contract noting that he would be prohibited from playing against his parent club - presumably because the higher-ups reckoned he might actually give Villa an advantage should he play against them.
What a mistake.
It was the 19-year-old Woodrow that scored first, his first goal for the senior side, just two minutes after entering the field. With Ciaran Clark off getting treatment for a gash above his eye, Villa were reduced to ten men. That made it all too easy for Woodrow to get on the end of a chip from Lewis Holtby, heading on to give Fulham the lead.
It was happening again - and again, Paul Lambert could do nothing to stop it. Introducing Yacouba Sylla for Ashley Westwood proved to be a fatal mistake. Three minutes after the Cottagers took the lead, in a fit of panic, Sylla slid clumsily into Sidwell. Replays showed the tackle occurred just outside the area, but the former Villan made the most of it, flying across the line and rolling a few times to be sure.
Bent himself stepped up to the spot. Brad Guzan guessed right, but could only push Bent's shot into the post, where it bounced off the upright and into the back of the net. 3-1 Fulham, with Bent's first goal in nearly two months.
The Villa tried to get themselves back in the match, but nothing seemed to be working. Fabian Delph set Gabby Agbonlahor free, but the shot went well wide. Moments later, Aleksandar Tonev, on for Albrighton, sent one of his trademark shots well into the upper reaches of the Holte End. Ron Vlaar came the closest, his header from an 83rd minute corner going just inches wide of the post.
Then, just to make the humiliation complete, Bent put in another just before the end of the match. With two minutes already flashing on the fourth official's board, the forward latched onto a through ball from Ashkan Dejagah and let fly, sending in a rocket from about 20 yards out.
Aston Villa: Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Bertrand; Westwood (Sylla 53), El Ahmadi; Albrighton (Tonev 65), Delph, Agbonlahor, Benteke (Holt 79)
Goals: El Ahmadi 8'
Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Heitinga, Hangeland, Riise; Richardson (Woodrow 55), Sidwell, Kvist, Kasami (Dejagah 71); Holtby; Dembele (Bent 55)
Goals: Sidwell 21'; Woodrow 57'; Bent 61' (PEN), 90'
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