Unai Emery’s resurgent Aston Villa are currently the third most in-form team in the Premier League over the last ten games – and the Midlands side hosted Fulham on Tuesday evening, hoping to take another step towards a European finish. The away side’s season had been threatening to fizzle out, but back-to-back wins against Everton and Leeds have left the door to a European finish slightly ajar. Villa were once again without Matty Cash and Phillipe Coutinho who continue to recover from calf and thigh injuries respectively. Influential Fulham frontman Aleksander Mitrović was set to serve the fifth of his eight game suspension, while Willian picked up an injury in the warm-up, ruling him out.
AVL: Martínez; Young, Konsa, Mings, Moreno; McGinn, Dendoncker, Douglas Luiz; Ramsey, Buendía, Watkins
FUL: Leno; Tete, Tosin, Ream, Robinson; Palhinha, Reed; Wilson, Pereira, Solomon; James
It was Aston Villa that settled the quicker of the two sides, with a fierce drive from the evergreen Ashley Young deflected narrowly wide. Villa continued to probe with midfield technician Douglas Luiz looking to take the game by the scruff of the neck, as an early blow for Fulham saw the in-form Harry Wilson withdrawn due to injury – Bobby De-Cordova Reid was picked as his replacement.
The early pressure from the hosts was rewarded after a flurry of corners resulted in the opening goal. A precise in-swinging delivery from McGinn in the 21st minute was glanced into the far corner by Mings, giving Leno no chance. It was the imposing centre-back’s first goal in seventeen months, and the lead was fully deserved by the home side. Fulham were unable to find a way into the game in the opening quarter of the match.
Villa continued to see the lion’s share of possession as the half progressed. Ollie Watkins came into the game with five goals in his previous five appearances, and the English striker’s first sight of goal resulted in a powerful strike straight at Bernd Leno – who saved comfortably. Fulham slowly began to come into the game as the half wore on, but a clear lack of cutting edge hampered the visitors. Referee Thomas Bramall brought a one-sided first half to an end, with Aston Villa firmly in the ascendancy.
There were signs of life for Fulham in the second half as the away side began to see more of the ball, though they still couldn’t test Martínez in the Villa goal. A lack of presence in front of goal had been the visitors’ downfall all evening – so the introduction of Carlos Vinícius in the 67th minute looked to provide a focal point for the Cottagers. Fulham thought they had found an equaliser in the 82nd minute when Harrison Reed’s fizzed delivery across the box was deflected past Martínez, but the flag was correctly raised to cut celebrations short.
Ultimately, a game lacking quality in the final third was decided by a solitary header from Tyrone Mings, as Aston Villa picked up a vital three points in their quest for a European finish. The win moves the Villans above Tottenham into fifth position. A stern test awaits Emery’s side on Sunday as they travel to Old Trafford to face a Manchester United side who may be without captain Bruno Fernandes after the Portuguese midfielder suffered an ankle injury in their recent FA Cup semifinal victory over Brighton. It doesn’t get any easier for Fulham, as title hopefuls Manchester City visit Craven Cottage on Sunday. Fulham remain in ninth in what has been an excellent first season back in the Premier League.