Fulham 3-1 Aston Villa

Saturday 11 July 2015 20:26

A stunning strike from Alexander Kačaniklić helped Fulham end their tour of Portugal on a high in a hard-fought pre-season victory over Aston Villa.

Kačaniklić’s 25-yard thunderbolt on 67 regained the Whites' lead, as Manager Kit Symons gave each of the available Fulham players at least 45 minutes to build their match fitness.

Matt Smith’s opportunist strike handed the Whites the initial advantage on 22 minutes, after Thomas Eisfeld’s cross caused confusion in the Villa defence and the forward’s outstretched leg flicked the ball past goalkeeper Jed Steer.

The scoreline stayed that way until after the interval, when Libor Kozak pounced from close range while Shaun Hutchinson was down holding his head. There was no stoppage from the referee, and the 56th-minute goal was allowed to stand.

But Kačaniklić stole the show at the Estadio da Nora in Albufeira, crashing the ball into the top corner of the Villa goal, before Ross McCormack wrapped up the result in the closing stages.

Despite a 6.30pm kick-off, temperatures were still at a sweltering 24 degrees Celsius, although a welcome breeze was taking the edge off the humidity as Fulham kicked-off.

Ex-Whites player Kieran Richardson lined-up for the opposition, with Liam Donnelly sitting alongside Emerson Hyndman in the Fulham midfield, and Cauley Woodrow supporting Smith up front.

Kačaniklić showed early signs of intent, winning a free-kick deep into Villa territory in the first minute, to which Hyndman saw his delivery well cleared.

New Whites goalkeeper Andy Lonergan was called into action on five minutes, showing good reactions to stop Callum Robinson’s 20-yard strike with his legs as Villa threatened.

Woodrow and Smith linked up well to create a crossing chance, which Steer dealt with well, before Kačaniklić fired wide after finding space and collecting Jack Grimmer’s diagonal pass.

The Whites built well on the momentum, as Woodrow crashed a shot back off defender Nathan Baker on 14 minutes from a good position and Eisfeld fired in an effort which deflected towards Steer.

The Premier League outfit had played some good football without really troubling the Whites, when Smith stole in to give Fulham the lead. The Birmingham-born striker took advantage of hesitation in the Villa defence and, after the ball eluded Woodrow at the near post, Smith reacted quickest to score.

Donnelly had been struggling with a head injury, receiving treatment a couple of times, before he was replaced by Ryan Tunnicliffe on 34 minutes, who slotted straight into central midfield.

Villa forced themselves into the ascendancy as the clock ticked towards half-time. Carles Gil, Ashley Westwood and Niall Mason all shot off target, with Kačaniklić again showing the Whites’ intent, breaking into acres of space on the left and hammering an effort the wrong side of Steer's upright.

There was a raft of changes for both sides at the break, with Villa manager Tim Sherwood introducing former Fulham defender Philippe Senderos among 11 half-time switches, and Symons making seven further changes.

Lonergan, Tunnicliffe, Kay Voser and Kačaniklić remained for the Whites, with a fresh forward line of Captain McCormack and Adam Taggart. Ben Pringle and Larnell Cole joined the Fulham midfield, there was a new centre-back pairing of Cameron Burgess and Hutchinson, and Sean Kavanagh came on at left-back.

Lonergan made an excellent one-handed save after 50 minutes with Gary Gardner’s 25-yard free-kick heading towards the top corner, as Villa started the half on top. They made the period of control count on 56 minutes, with a huge slice of misfortune falling Fulham’s way.

The ball hit Hutchinson in the side of the head, forcing the Whites centre-half to sink to his knees. There was no stoppage in play, with Hutchinson playing Kozak onside to net from Joe Cole’s pass.

Marcus Bettinelli replaced Lonergan on the hour, and Fulham went back ahead on 67 minutes with a thunderous drive from Kačaniklić. Twenty-five yards out, the Sweden international hit a spectacular strike in off the underside of the crossbar, beyond the hopeless dive of substitute goalkeeper Brad Watkins.

Grimmer and Eisfeld were re-introduced to the game on 73 minutes, replacing Voser and Kačaniklić, as the Whites began to manage the game with Villa offering little in response.

Taggart's persistence earned the Whites a chance for the final say, when the Australian striker robbed Ciaran Clark and fed Tunnicliffe, who in turn squared for McCormack is slide the ball into the far corner on 86 minutes.

Fulham (first half): Lonergan, Grimmer, Bodurov (c), Burn, Voser, Eisfeld, Donnelly (Tunnicliffe 34), Hyndman, Kačaniklić, Woodrow, Smith.

Fulham (second half): Lonergan (Bettinelli 60), Voser (Grimmer 73), Hutchinson, Burgess, Kavanagh, Kačaniklić (Eisfeld 73), Tunnicliffe, Pringle, Cole, McCormack, Taggart.

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