Dave Woodhall watches Villa beat Fulham and edge closer to Europe.
Before kick-off the cynics/conspiracy theorists amongst us reckoned that the prices for next season were rushed out to cash in on the feelgood factor that followed Villa’s win against Newcastle. Maybe they should have held on until after this one, even though the game scarcely reached the same heights. Villa won – again, kept a clean sheet – again, and went up a place in the table – again. I really shouldn’t be so blase about such things, but that’s what this extraordinary season is doing.
That feelgood factor had gone up a notch when the teams were announced. Unchanged again, which meant Emiliano Martinez was playing and just as importantly Robin Olsen wasn’t. Sorry again, and that’s the final easy jibe. Fulham went straight down the pitch from the kick-off and hit the side netting, which was pretty much all they did all night. In contrast Villa were looking as sharp as ever, with Douglas Luiz dominating midfield and Jacob Ramsey pushing forward well. There was a good shout for a penalty when Ollie Watkins was brought down and all that was needed was a goal, which came midway through the first half when John McGinn’s corner was met by Tyrone Mings, whose casually flicked header beat the Fulham defence. Villa were worth a second but the midfield dominance wasn’t matched by equal sharpness in the box and there were no further goals before the break.
The second half was a much less dominant affair. Villa seemed to tire, and Fulham pressed forward without ever looking like scoring. Watkins and McGinn could perhaps have done better with chances on the break, and in truth neither of them were on the top of their game towards the end. There seemed some tired legs on the pitch; Lucas Digne and Bertrand Traore came on and seemed to steady the team while the introduction of Callum Chambers for Ashley Young was a good decision given that Young has done everything expected of him and more these past few weeks but he can’t be expected to play ninety minutes twice a week. Villa’s squad resources are stretching ever-thinner and fit-again reinforcements can’t arrive too quickly
The game fizzled out with Villa content to sit back and Fulham not really showing much urgency. Martinez got a booking for timewasting, which seemed to be given because the referee thought it’s a a part of every match. It’s never easy to watch the final minutes when you’re only one goal up, but if it has to happen this was as painless a way as any. There was no real panic and at the final whistle it was difficult to remember any real chances that Fulham created.
Ten games unbeaten, five straight home wins without conceding and we’ve scored in the last twenty, which is something I can’t remember even the gloriously attacking sides of Ron Saunders and Ron Atkinson managing. It might not have been a great performance, it might not have been particularly good, but when you get to this stage of the season with something to play for, quality is a lot less important than results. We got a good one tonight.