Dave Woodhall on Villa’s windswept 2-1 win at home to Fulham.
I don’t usually do it, but I had a look at our upcoming opponents’ messageboards before the match with Fulham. They’re normally the most genteel of supporters but some of them were in an absolute ferment, not over recent rises in the price of quinoa, or that Craven Cottage’s food outlets had started serving unripe brie. No, what was getting the normally placid folk of West London upset was that their team would be coming up against John Terry, formerly of their rivals Chelsea.
I say ‘rivals’, but in reality it’s the sort of one-sided affair Villa used to reserve for Coventry, namely frothing-at-the-mouth hatred on one side and wry amusement on the other. That is, when we used to pay them any attention at all. But it promised to add a bit of spice to the fixture. It also meant that one thing was inevitable.
It came after 23 minutes, when a Conor Hourihane free-kick was delivered with such slide-rule perfection that Terry only had to get so much as an eyelash onto the ball and it was in the back of the net. Terry naturally celebrated his first goal for the Villa in front of the supporters, and was it really his fault that h’es so used to ‘his’ fans being in the away section that that’s where he ran to? I think not.
After that Villa seemed to have more of the game, but were still susceptible to Fulham’s quick forward passing, which proved our undoing in first half stoppage time. A through ball with the precision of Hourihane’s early delivery split the Villa defence and although the original attack broke down, Glenn Whelan let his man go past him and gave away a free-kick on the edge of the area. The resultant shot was perfectly placed and unstoppable.
Second half and the perfect start, when four minutes in and Jonatha Kodjia’s dummy/miskick fell perfectly for Albert Adomah, the league’s most improved player, to net his fifth goal in six games. Shades of Ray Graydon for those of us whose memories stretch back to 1974-75.
After that the rain came down, Fulham having most of the ball but not doing much with it, which was surprising as when they did press forward they looked dangerous. The biggest difference I’ve noticed between this level and the Premier League is that when you lose the ball in midfield you tend to get it back a lot quicker, but Fulham were more like a top-flight side in that they didn’t make many mistakes in this regard. They just didn’t seem too keen on passing forward and to their credit Villa pressed further forward than has usually been the case this season.
Sam Johnstone pulled off a great save while Ritchie de Laet’s run from deep almost made the game certain with five minutes to go. As it was there was bit of nail-biting but Villa are now becoming masters at running the clock down. Three points and we’re finally in the top six; most importantly, we’ve shown that we can bounce back from defeat and Steve Bruce can send the team out to attack even when the opposition are better than relegation fodder. How he sets the team up for next Sunday will be interesting. The tried and not exactly tested attempt not to lose, or learn from his mistakes?
I was at the match with my mate and his lad, who doesn’t really show much enthusiasm for football in general or Villa in particular. All attempts at indoctrination have so far met with little success but it was either this or stay at home, and the promise of McDonald’s afterwards had swung the balance. He wasn’t that much bothered for most of the match, being preoccupied with something I believe youngsters call Pokemon. Then he smiled a bit when Adomah scored and smiled a bit wider at the final whistle. We’re winning the battle.