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Fulham 2-0 Aston Villa Prem 15 1314 Daily Mail

last updated Monday 09th December 2013, 2:18 PM
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Riath Al-Samarrai at Daily Mail

Fulham (2) 2 Aston Villa (0) 0

How much is the old dog in the window? Based on his sudden reawakening yesterday afternoon, Dimitar Berbatov might actually be worth something after all.

Of course, that is all the more pertinent in a week when the Bulgarian's agent has stated his client would like to move on.

Until Sunday, that thought would have been pretty bearable for those who care about such things.

Even Rene Meulensteen said in midweek he wouldn't stand in the 32-year-old's way.

How opinions might have changed after this little reminder that beneath the long sleeves, gloves and vacant expressions lies a footballer with a wonderful talent.

He scored a penalty with his usual panache and played a central role in the move that led to it with a volley of sublime technique. And he ran and chased and tackled. Really.

The Meulensteen effect? Maybe. Will he just as likely blow cold again at Everton on Saturday? Who would bet against it?

But when he is good he is worth fighting for. Meulensteen knows that better than most after working so intensely with him at Manchester United, but this is a fight he might not win and that was discernible from his post-match press briefing, when he was asked about his prospects of keeping the striker beyond the next transfer window.

'You saw what he's capable of out there,' Meulensteen said. 'I just had a good chat with him. Berbatov's not a stranger.

'We had a good chat and we know what games we've got coming up to January, and he's committed to Fulham. I'm just concentrating up until January.

'The word is focus. Anyone who has a good focus, who knows the job in hand, you get results like this.'

And what of Berbatov's future beyond January, when he'll have only six months left on his contract? 'I can't and don't want to answer that. I'll do that with the people who are relevant to discuss these things. I couldn't be more delighted with his performance here.'

All of which hardly clears up the issue. Yet this win, after six straight defeats, does so much to clear up the mess of Fulham's season.

Meulensteen's first game post-Martin Jol was a plucky defeat against Tottenham; this was a superb performance of energy and sharp passing that warranted a win, even when judged against a couple of dubious penalty decisions that went against Aston Villa.

Paul Lambert was gracious enough to admit that much, even if he was rightly miffed about Mike Dean's call to penalise Leandro Bacuna for a challenge of Alexander Kacaniklic in the first half but ignored a more obvious foul by Aaron Hughes on Gabriel Agbonlahor in the second.

Lambert said: 'I don't think we did enough to win the game. I am disappointed at some of the decisions, the two penalties for instance. I've just spoken to Mike there and he has his views on it, we have ours. That's football.'

And how surprising it can be. In the space of the first 10 minutes Berbatov had beaten Fabian Delp with a bit of trickery down the right and also hit the bar with a header. Another Berbatov header played a role in the 20th-minute opener, though not as much as Bacuna's negligence.

Had Bacuna tracked Sidwell's run, or not been so easily out-muscled by the midfielder subsequently, it's likely the chance would have disappeared. As it transpired, Sidwell's finish, a chip on the end of a slide, was lovely.

The second was all Berbatov. Karagounis had floated a long ball and Berbatov, 50 yards from goal, contorted his body shape mid-flight to flick a volley inside Bacuna and into Alexander Kacaniklic's path.

Kacaniklic was heading away from goal, but checked his run and Bacuna had no way of avoiding a collision. Dean gave a penalty and Berbatov sauntered up, did one of those dummy-steps and sent Guzan the wrong way. It was a quintessentially Berbatov penalty.

Yet it didn't need any magic to beat Villa. They had their moments early on, Christian Benteke glancing a header wide after 12 minutes and a few moments later he had a shot from the edge of the area saved after shuffling through a crowd. It's now nine games since he scored.

That is not good enough and nor were Villa. In fact, they were terrible, which was bizarre and unexpected given their five-game unbeaten run coming into this one. Lambert added: 'I think we looked tired, but I couldn't fault the lads for effort. Five games unbeaten was great. Put it into perspective, we're still only three points off Manchester United.'

Basic tasks like tracking runners were beyond them. When Berbatov went clear after a one-two with Sidwell towards the end of the first half, no defender was close. When John Arne Riise headed against the post in the second half it was because he was left unmarked.

They deserved more from the referee but not from the fixture. This was Fulham's day and Berbatov's too. How long until that happens again, if ever?

Fulham (4-3-3): Stekelenburg 6; Riether 6, Hughes 6, Senderos 7, Riise 6; Sidwell 7, Parker 7, Karagounis 7 (Kasami 73, 6); Dejagah 7, Berbatov 8, Kacaniklic 7 (Duff 77).
Subs not used: Stockdale, Zverotic, Richardson, Ruiz, Christensen

Goals: Sidwell 21, Berbatov 30 (pen)

Aston Villa: Guzan 6; Bacuna 4, Herd 6 (Lowton 81), Clark 5, Baker 6; El Ahmadi 5 (Tonev 46, 6), Westwood 6, Delph 6; Weimann 6 (Albrighton 81), Agbonlahor 5, Benteke 6. Subs not used: Steer, Helenius, Bowery, Sylla

Booked: Delph, Herd

Referee: Mike Dean 4

Attendance: 22,288

Man of the Match: Dimitar Berbatov

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