Jonathan Greening was handed his Fulham debut at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon as Fulham lost by two goals to nil. An own-goal early on from John Pantsil and a second-half strike from Gabriel Agbonlahor was enough to give the home side all three points.
Aaron Hughes took the up captaincy in the absence of Danny Murphy as Fulham lined-up with Erik Nevland and Diomansy Kamara up front. A somewhat new-look midfield was made up of Damien Duff, Greening, Dickson Etuhu and Clint Dempsey.
The Whites made a bad start when a needlessly conceded corner resulted in the opening goal of the match. Mark Schwarzer could only stretch and put a loose back-pass from Aaron Hughes out for a corner. The resulting set piece from Ashley Young was headed past Schwarzer by John Pantsil, who was under pressure from Carlos Cuellar on three minutes.
Villa were looking dangerous down their left flank with the lively Gabriel Agbonlahor doing well to make the most of the limited space he was being afforded.
Despite the bad start, Fulham worked their way back into the game as the initial onslaught from Villa subsided. Diomansy Kamara and Erik Nevland started finding themselves involved more in proceedings but Villa were still the side with the upper hand in terms of possession and attempts on goal.
Fulham’s early possession saw them struggling to find any penetration through Villa’s defence with the ball often making lots of lateral movement in the midfield area as the Whites looked to find a pass through the massed ranks of Claret and Blue in front of them.
Fulham’s first effective counter-attack of the match came on 27 minutes when Kamara’s cross-field ball found Duff in space on the left wing. His cross was put out for a corner at the back post with Erik Nevland lurking dangerously.
Villa’s attacks were less committed following their first taste of a Fulham counter-attack but they came close to doubling their lead in the 32nd minute when an Ashley Young free-kick was headed down and over the bar by Dickson Etuhu. For the large part, Fulham were able to deal with the Villa’s set pieces into the box, with Schwarzer often collecting well. But the home side still posed a threat from the dead ball.
Greening joined Etuhu in the referee’s book when he picked up a caution for flattening Milner by the touchline and the end of the first-half.
The half-time briefing seemed to have the desired effect on the Whites as they came out looking a far more confident unit in the second-half. Both Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey were playing visibly further up the field, giving more attacking options to the Whites and keeping Villa’s full-backs in check.
It was certainly a more familiar shape from the Whites as their attacking play looked more promising than in the first-half – yet they were still guilty of, on occasion, losing possession when in promising areas.
Gabriel Agbonlahor extended Aston Villa’s lead with their first shot of the second-half on 59 minutes. The Villa forward won possession in the middle of the park and was able to bustle his way past Greening before drilling a low shot past Schwarzer from the edge of the penalty area.
The Whites continued their search for a goal but ran into difficulties when trying to navigate their way through a tenacious Villa defence. However, they maintained their patience and with the introduction of Eddie Johnson for Erik Nevland on 65 minutes, Hodgson hoped to give the Fulham front line some fresh impetus.
Unfortunately, Villa gave no quarter as their impressive defensive performance continued to stifle Fulham’s attacking intentions right up until the final whistle .