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Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham Prem 33 1314 Daily Mail

last updated Monday 07th April 2014, 3:00 PM
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Mark Ryan at Daily Mail

Aston Villa (0) 1-2 (0) Fulham

Fulham manager Felix Magath freely admitted this delicious encounter had represented his team's last realistic chance to stay in the Premier League survival fight.

In dramatic scenes at Villa Park, that final opportunity to stay in touch with their rivals was taken, just when all seemed lost and the lifeline severed.

With only four minutes of normal time remaining, Hugo Rodallega - who had spent the first half on the bench - glanced the winning header from Lewis Holtby's pinpoint cross.

It was almost too much for us to take in, particularly after Holtby's extraordinary miss had appeared to doom the visitors earlier in an action-packed second half.

Villa supporters booed at the final whistle, every bit as fed up with watching their side lose at home as their manager Paul Lambert later declared himself to be.

At least they can console themselves with the probability that one more Villa win - here or anywhere - will secure their top-flight status for another season.

For yesterday's opponents, such an outcome remains unlikely. Yet one look at those defiant Fulham fans, who travelled in their thousands and inspired their struggling team to victory, told us we can expect more twists and turns before the season's end.

Some days you can feel the sheer willpower of supporters, urging players on with a loving desperation, when heads might otherwise drop and a team finally submit to cruel luck.

This was just such an occasion, especially after the outrageous events of the 75th minute. Ashkan Dejagha supplied the convincing dummy which left Holtby time and space to deliver what should have been the telling blow.

A shot fired toward either corner of the goal would have resulted in certain success. Instead the German directed his effort towards the centre of the empty net, allowing Matthew Lowton to slide in heroically to clear.

The goal line technology revealed that a tiny sliver of the ball had not crossed the line, and Villa looked as though they had rescued at least a point.

Even a share of the spoils would have destroyed Fulham's long-term hopes. And to see Hotlby's chance go begging might have been enough to shatter the collective soul of many a group.

Not Magath's team. They had taken the lead in the 61st minute after Dejagah had rolled the ball to Kieran Richardson on the edge of the Villa area. With one of the sweetest strikes of his long career, the ex-Manchester United star left goalkeeper Brad Guzan no chance.

The celebration of that opener was something to behold. There was uproar on the two tiers of the Fulham section, though the joy was short-lived.

Nine minutes later, Marc Albrighton's corner evaded no fewer than six Fulham defenders and found Grant Holt, who headed his first goal for his latest club.

Earlier Leandro Bacuna had twice been denied at the near post by David Stockdale, while both Albrighton and Andreas Weimann had also come close.

Yet Fulham looked hungrier somehow, just as their fans were usually noisier.

A frustrated Lambert observed: 'We can't keep losing at home. Our fan base doesn't accept us sitting on a game, we have to thrive on the atmosphere and see a game through.'

But the Fulham fans had provided most of that atmosphere yesterday, and manager Magath admitted: 'They supported us for 90 minutes and the players are happy, happy in the locker-rooms. They have asked for two days off and I've given them that.

'It was very important to win here, this was the last chance for us to stay in the league - and it was spectacular.'

Indeed it was.

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Guzan 6.5; Lowton 7, Vlaar 6, Baker 5.5, Bennett 6 (Tonev 66' 6); Bacuna 6.5, Westwood 6, Bertrand 6; Albrighton 6.5 (Bowery 90'), Holt 7, Weimann 6.5
Subs not used: Steer, Clark, Luna, Sylla, Tonev, Robinson

Goals: Holt 70

Booked: Bennett, Westwood, Albrighton

Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stockdale, Heitinga (Riise 83), Hangeland, Richardson, Amorebieta, Sidwell, Kasami (Dejagah 45), Diarra, Holtby, Riether, Woodrow (Rodallega 45),
Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Kvist, Kacaniklic, Roberts,

Goals: Richardson 61, Rodallega 86

Booked: Sidwell, Holtby

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland) 7

Attendance: 33,532

Man of the Match: Holtby

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