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Fulham 1-0 Aston Villa Prem08 1213 Daily Mail

last updated Monday 22nd October 2012, 10:53 AM

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Mark Ryan at Daily Mail

Fulham (0) 1 Aston Villa (0) 0

The worst assist ever? It sounds harsh coming from your own manager, but the hero of Craven Cottage won't mind.

Chris Baird celebrated his 200th League appearance with a dramatic winner six minutes from time - but Martin Jol called it a fluke.

With only the sixth goal of his career, Baird turned John Arne Riise's inswinging corner past Brad Guzan to secure points neither team truly deserved.

It wasn't Baird's match-winning contribution which was considered fortuitous by the hard-to-please Dutchman.

'Chris is very good at attacking the near post,' purred Jol in typically hushed tones.

But he argued that Riise did not mean to put the ball anywhere near that post in the first place.

'It was the worst corner kick ever,' said Jol, to gasps and chuckles of surprise.

'Someone said it was deliberate, but I don't think it was!' Seconds later, Villa substitute Christian Benteke should have equalised but fired wide.

Fulham had at least started brightly and might have gone ahead early.

Kieran Richardson's shot was blocked after fine work from Dimitar Berbatov.

The classy Bulgarian's chipped cross a few minutes later deserved a better header from his strike partner, Mladen Petric.

The ineffectual Petric then headed weakly into the arms of Guzan, while at the other end Gabriel Agbonlahor's shot was deflected, leaving Mark Schwarzer a simple save.

Richardson saw another effort deflected wide.

He would be denied in the second half, too, by obstructive Villa defenders, just when he seemed on the verge of a breakthrough.

No wonder Jol gave Ashkan Dejagah his debut 20 minutes from time, as the game threatened to run out of steam long before the final whistle.

Darren Bent had chances, but did not look capable of converting one.

Matthew Lowton's impressive cross simply skimmed off Bent's head.

He failed to attack what service he had with sufficient vigour, and it was no surprise when Villa manager Paul Lambert ended the England striker's afternoon with 15 minutes left.

By then, Steve Sidwell had squandered a promising dead ball from Hugo Rodallega and then the Colombian had sliced a volley of his own.

The service from both sets of midfielders lacked vision.

When a pass across the turf was required, they floated the ball hopelessly high.

When a player was in space demanding the ball, he was ignored as though his teammate was blinkered.

'Some of the football was great,' said Lambert with breathtaking spin.

'We deserved something out of it.'

So what was admirable about this mediocre afternoon in West London? Only the defenders who blocked shots bravely, notably those in Villa shirts, and that the large crowd did not go home and leave them all to it long before that solitary goal.

'The fans understood our problems, that Petric and Berbatov had never played together, and they stayed with us,' acknowledged Jol.

'It was a question of grinding out a result.'

Fulham: Schwarzer, Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise, Sidwell (Karagounis 84), Baird, Richardson (Dejagah 70), Rodallega, Berbatov, Petric (Diarra 64).
Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Senderos, Kasami, Kacaniklic.

Booked: Riise.

Goal: Baird 84.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker (Lichaj 62), Bennett, Ireland (N'Zogbia 66), El Ahmadi, Delph, Holman, Bent (Benteke 75), Agbonlahor.
Subs Not Used: Given, Albrighton, Bannan, Weimann.

Booked: El Ahmadi, Lichaj.

Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

Attendance: 25,693.

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