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Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham Prem 33 1314 The Guardian

last updated Monday 07th April 2014, 2:56 PM

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Peter Lansley at The Guardian

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

For Felix Magath, that notoriously tough taskmaster, to grant his players two days off is a measure of the significance of this victory after Fulham pulled to within five points of Norwich City, whom they host next week, following Hugo Rodallega's winner four minutes from time.

The last time a Premier League team survived from the position Fulham found themselves in before this win was when Roy Hodgson inspired their great escape with four victories from their final six matches six years ago. Uncannily, all the remaining games fall on the same dates as those from the end of the 2007-08 season.

Rodallega scored Wigan Athletic's last-gasp survival goal at Stoke City three years ago and it was his introduction at half-time on Saturday that encouraged Fulham to take charge against an insipid Aston Villa team who should be safe from relegation but, after three successive defeats and the loss of Christian Benteke, may be advised to take care.

After Grant Holt had equalised Kieran Richardson's opening goal in a second half as thrilling as the first half was dull, Rodallega rose to head on Lewis Holtby's diagonal cross beyond Brad Guzan for his first league goal of the season.

Magath admitted that Fulham's chances of staying up would have been over if they had lost this match after Rodallega, who has started only two league games this season, fulfilled his pre-match promise to score if he was given the chance.

"I think this was our last chance for us to stay in the league," he said. "For us to win in the last five minutes is a signal to everybody that we are back in the league. Everyone at the game could see we want to stay in this league. We have to win our games now. It doesn't matter which team will come. We need to win three of the last games at least to stay in the league. This win will give us confidence."

The first half was a laboured affair as Villa, having lost Benteke for six months with a ruptured achilles, as well as Gabriel Agbonlahor, Fabian Delph and Karim El Ahmadi to shorter-term ailments, looked content to play for the point that might also have suited Fulham at any other stage of the season. But inhibitions were cast aside in a thrilling second half as Magath introduced Rodallega and Ashkan Dejagah and pushed Richardson forward on the left wing. Suddenly the game was as open and end-to-end as a playground match.

Leandro Bacuna ran in from wide on the right to force a good save from David Stockdale who then held high Andreas Weimann's powerful shot from Holt's pull-back as Villa attempted to raise their game.

But Fulham were unshackled, imbued with enhanced belief and, when Dejagah crossed low from the right, Richardson, an integral part of West Bromwich Albion's great escape round these parts in 2005, dispatched a fierce, left-footed shot into the far top corner from the edge of the penalty area.

After Holt equalised with his first Villa goal, finding freedom in the penalty area to head in Marc Albrighton's corner with 20 minutes remaining in front of the Holte End, Rodallega was an appropriate match winner. Lewis Holtby had an effort cleared off the line by Matt Lowton after dribbling round Guzan, Michael Oliver checking his goalline decision system watch, before Rodallega kept Fulham's hopes alive with his crucial intervention.

"He has shown in the training stations he is in a good shape," Magath said. "I asked him today if he comes in will he be in good shape and he said yes and that he will score.

"Our fans supported us for 90 minutes, and you can imagine now how the players in the locker room are happy, happy. They forced me to give them two days off so I have. They deserved it after today."

Paul Lambert said: "Looking at the table and fixtures, there are some real hard games for everyone."

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