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Fulham need leader on pitch - S. Times

last updated Sunday 10th November 2002, 8:18 PM
Aston Villa (1) 3 Fulham (0) 1
A satisfying afternoon at the coal-face for Aston Villa: a much-needed victory, three goals and even cheers at the final whistle, albeit mostly for heroic goalkeeper Peter Enckelman. Fulham, meanwhile, sloped back to West London ruing a soporific first half and a second-half surge which ended only in Villa’s second goal.

“A hard game,” admitted victorious manager Graham Taylor, who is set to give a trial to Lillestrom midfielder Espen Sogard this week. “Fulham are very creative and can pick you off, but we were playing for the result because the win was so important.”

Fulham midfielder Steed Malbranque
Fulham midfielder Steed Malbranque chips the ball just over the bar
Even before today, draws at Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers suggested Villa’s season was finally turning. Fulham’s early season gust of wind has evaporated amid four consecutive league defeats and debilitating speculation over manager Jean Tigana, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

Tigana suggested Fulham need a leader on the pitch. “If it was the first time this has happened, it would be acceptable,” he sighed, “but it’s not and it’s not acceptable. Nobody talks on the pitch.”

Villa started poorly. In the 19th minute, though, they shortened their passing, began to utilise the width of Gareth Barry and Mark Delaney and reaped a bountiful harvest.

Barry’s luscious left-wing cross was missed by the onrushing Oyvind Leonhardsen, only for Ian Taylor to meet Alain Goma’s clearance with a perfect volley. Edwin van der Sar saved in thrilling fashion.

Mark Kinsella floated the resultant corner over and Taylor nodded on. At the far post, Juan Pablo Angel’s stooping header was no net- breaker, but Van der Sar allowed it to squirm through and trickle into the net. It was the Colombian’s first goal since April 6 and its lack of quality was thoroughly in keeping with the first half.

Tigana introduced both Junichi Inamoto and a sense of purpose after the interval. Indeed, Fulham should have levelled in the 48th minute after Steve Finnan’s rampaging run set Steed Malbranque free, only for the playmaker’s chip to beat Enckelman and the bar.

No matter, three minutes later, Finnan’s block fell kindly for Steve Staunton, who dithered. Luis Boa Morte shouldered the defender off the ball and fired past Enckelman for his first League goal since September 2001.

Fulham rediscovered their verve. Passes began to reach white shirts, off-the-ball runs terrorised Villa and Malbranque and Sylvain Legwinski were no longer peripheral figures. Enckelman saved well from Inamoto and Steve Marlet.

And then, of all things, Villa scored. With Finnan pushing forward, Barry sped down the left. His low cross was halted by Leonhardsen and, with Fulham in disarray, Marcus Allback crashed first-time past Van der Sar for his first Premiership goal.

Fulham’s moment had passed and Villa cruised home. In the 83rd minute they settled it. Again Barry was the provider, crossing high to the far post. Allback headed back admirably and Leonhardsen smashed a volley past Van der Sar. It was, needless to say, his first goal of the season.

Aston Villa:
Enckelman, Delaney, Samuel, Mellberg, Staunton (Johnsen 77min), Barry, Taylor, Kinsella (Hitzlsperger 62min), Leonhardsen, Dublin, Angel (Allback h-t)

Fulham:
Van der Sar, Melville, Goma, Ouaddou (Stolcers 72min), Finnan, Brevett, Marlet, Djetou (Inamoto h-t), Malbranque, Legwinski, Boa Morte (Sava 78min)

Scorers: Aston Villa: Angel 20, Allback 66, Leonhardsen 83

Fulham: Boa Morte 51

Attendance: 29,563 Referee: A D’Urso

Source S.Times by John Aizlewood

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