The Cottagers had Carlos Bocanegra sent off for an horrendous tackle and may face censure from the Football Association after a bottle was thrown in the direction of an assistant referee.
They could scarcely have made a better start and went in front after just 52 seconds through a fierce Luis Boa Morte strike. But it was downhill all the way after that as Edwin van der Sar's blunder gifted Juan Pablo Angel a 12th-minute equaliser. Things went from bad to worse when the home defence went AWOL to let Darius Vassell, just 5ft 7in tall, nod in the winner just after the half-hour. The goal was a timely reminder to England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose assistant Tord Grip was here to run the rule over Vassell ahead of next Wednesday's England friendly in Portugal.
Controversy arrived by the bucketload in the final 15 minutes. First, referee Barry Knight turned down Fulham's penalty appeals when Boa Morte's cross clearly struck Jlloyd Samuel's arm. The game had to be halted a minute later when the assistant referee, just 15 yards from the incident, alerted Knight's attention to a bottle which had been thrown towards him from a section of Fulham fans. Two minutes later, Bocanegra was guilty of one of the worst tackles of the season - a wild, two-footed lunge on Mark Delaney - which left the Villa man on a stretcher and the Fulham full-back sent off. Villa boss David O'Leary was furious at the challenge and had to be restrained by the ref and fourth official. However, a fourth win on the spin will cheer the Irishman's mood, as will the manner in which his side continued their surge up the table - they are now into the top seven.
Fulham made a dream start with Boa Morte rifling the home side into the lead with just 52 seconds on the clock. Lee Clark clipped the ball into the inside-left channel and the winger outran Olof Mellberg and smacked an angled drive past Thomas Sorensen and into the far corner. It was the Portugal international's sixth goal of the season and first for four months. But Villa hit back and, after Lee Hendrie sent a thunderbolt shot whistling over the top, equalised with 12 minutes on the clock.
Thomas Hitzlsperger bent in a great free-kick from the right and Angel outstretched Martin Djetou to prod goalwards. Fulham goalkeeper van der Sar should have saved the Colombian's weak shot but simply patted the ball back to him and Angel tapped in from three yards. Van der Sar went some way to redeeming himself with a full-length diving save from Nolberto Solano after 19 minutes. The visitors went in front when Fulham's defence gave Vassell the freedom of Loftus Road and he was completely unmarked when he leapt to head Hitzlsperger's cross past a hopelessly-exposed goalkeeper. On the stroke of half-time, Sorensen blocked Sean Davis' goalbound flick from Boa Morte's cross. Steed Malbranque's persistence almost earned Chris Coleman's side the equaliser in the 65th minute. The Frenchman's cross clipped Delaney's studs and was looping over Sorensen until the goalkeeper stretched backwards to claw the ball over his crossbar. Fulham centre-back Ian Pearce did little to calm things down after Bocanegra's deserved 75th-minute red card when he appeared to accuse the Villa boss of using his reaction to get Bocanegra sent off. Brian McBride hit the crossbar with a bouncing shot in injury time as Villa held on to win.