Fulham left it late before beating Aston Villa 1-0 at Craven Cottage courtesy of a goal from Chris Baird.
The Northern Ireland international converted a corner at the near post to finally breach a stubborn Villa defence.
Both sides found clear-cut chances hard to come by in an uninspiring Premier League clash and Paul Lambert will be frustrated with his side’s inability to take a point after limiting the home team’s openings.
Fulham welcomed back Dimitar Berbatov to the starting line-up after the Bulgarian recovered from a thigh problem. Mladen Petric was also back in the side after shaking off a calf injury as he formed a three-pronged attack alongside Berbatov and Hugo Rodallega.
Aston Villa manager Lambert recalled Darren Bent to the starting line-up after dropping the striker for the past two games. He partnered Gabriel Agbonlahor in attack, while Stephen Ireland also returned to the starting line-up after missing the last three games with a broken bone in his arm.
Fulham began the first-half in the ascendancy, although Villa established a foothold in the game and looked more and more comfortable as the half wore on.
Berbatov was an influential figure early on, forcing Brad Guzan into a sharp close-range save before playing an instrumental part in the move that let to Kieran Richardson having his low shot blocked by the busy American goalkeeper.
Petric threatened with a couple of headers, first directing a Berbatov cross wide and then a John Arne Riise delivery straight at Guzan.
Villa were offering little as an attacking force, although Agbonlahor, without a goal in his last 26 Premier League matches, did see a deflected shot held by Mark Schwarzer.
Rodallega headed another cross from Riise wide, before turning provider for Steve Sidwell who should have done better than head over the bar when unmarked in the area.
Although Villa rarely threatened Schwarzer’s goal, there was reason enough for Lambert to go in at half-time content that his players had limited Fulham to half chances.
The second-half continued in much the same vein as the first. The Cottagers, looking to extend a strong home record that had seen them score nine goals in their first three league games, continued to lack penetration in the Villa box, with Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker holding the Fulham attackers at bay.
Berbatov connected spectacularly with a volley but could not direct his shot on goal as Villa held firm.
The visitors suffered a blow on the hour when Baker’s ankle buckled underneath him as he pursued Petric. Eric Lichaj came on in his place, forcing a re-jig in the Villa defence as the substitute went to right-back and Matt Lowton moved into the middle.
Rodallega spurned a presentable chance after 73 minutes at Sascha Riether got in down the right and crossed to the Colombian who saw his low shot blocked by Lowton.
The frustration was building at Craven Cottage, although substitute Ashkan Dejagah almost gave his side the lead when he forced Guzan to push over his fierce right-footed strike.
Fulham finally took the lead after 84 minutes as Riise curled in a corner which Baird poked home at the near post for just his third goal in his 150th Fulham appearance.
Villa created their best chance almost immediately as substitute Christian Benteke drove Brett Holman’s cross inches wide with just Schwarzer to beat.
Villa may reflect that this result was rough justice after negating the Fulham threat for long spells but just one win in eight Premier League games will be a major source of concern for Lambert, whose team headed back to the Midlands with another away defeat.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ron Vlaar – Aston Villa: The Dutch defender was a tower of strength at the back and unfortunate to be on the losing team.
FULHAM: Schwarzer 6, Hughes 7, Hangeland 7, Riise 7, Baird 7, Sidwell 6, Berbatov 7, Petric 6, Richardson 6, Rodallega 6, Riether 7. Subs: Karagounis 6, Diarra 6, Dejagah 6.
ASTON VILLA: Guzan 6, Lowton 7, Vlaar 8, Baker 7, Bennett 7, El Ahmadi 6, Delph 6, Ireland 6, Holman 7, Agbonlahor 6, Bent 6. Subs: Benteke 6, N'Zogbia 6, Lichaj 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Aston Villa
- Dimitar Berbatov