There was a dampening of expectation when the teamsheets were announced before the Fulham game; confirming that both Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah were missing. The duo had very much been Villa’s cutting edge in recent weeks and were the players that Villa needed to have a good chance of taking anything from Craven Cottage.
The previous week, despite Villa’s control of the game against the Blues, it was Grealish and Adomah that had finally cut open the stubborn Blues’ rearguard.
Despite their missing personnel, Villa had done well in the first half to keep the home team under wraps and had created a few half chances with Birkir Bjarnason leading the charge.
In the second half, Fulham increasingly stretched the Villa rearguard and got their opener, before a mistake by Johnstone compounded the final result.
If the game proven anything, it was that Villa quest for automatic promotion will not be an easy one.
Villa Player Ratings vs Fulham
Sam Johnstone – 5
As MOMS highlighted last week, an apparent weakness in Johnstone’s game is his distribution and he came unstuck gifting Fulham a second goal with a wayward clearance. Throughout the game, his punts up field seemed directionless and wayward.
It’s certainly something that needs working on, as does the team’s strategy around them. Is there any point booting it up with just Scott Hogan up front?
There was no excuse for his wayward ball that fell to Ayite’s, who just inside the half-way line, had an empty net to send the ball into.
Apart from that, Johnstone made a couple of smart saves. The keeper though, must improve his kicking before it impacts on the confidence of the rest of his game, which has been more than sound, this season.
Axel Tuanzebe – 8 MOTM
Tasked with the job of playing minder to Ryan Sessegnon, Tuanzebe had him in his pocket during the first half. He made several tackles and clearances throughout the game (also leading the defensive stats) and impressively was in the right place at the right time, on a number of occasions.
He was smart and composed when he broke forward too, especially when he combined well with Elmohamady to set up Hourihane in the first half.
In the second half, he may have been out-smarted by Sessegnon, who came in from the left-flank to convert Fulham’s first goal, but to be fair, Villa’s defence were all over the place.
Expect him to start against Preston.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6
After several wasteful hopeful deliveries in the first half, where a more measured approached would have been preferable, he went off injured at half-time. Sessegnon certainly didn’t mind though, as he had more space in the second half without the doubling-up to contend with.
John Terry – 6
Public Enemy No.1 one for Fulham fans due to his West London previous. Not his most solid display and struggled at times when confronted by Fulham’s pacy waves of attacks.
James Chester – 6
After a sound first half, he struggled at times with the Fulham forward’s movement, once Fulham had Villa stretched at the back.
Alan Hutton – 6
Vital interception and clearance just after 20 minutes, but had his work cut out against Floyd Ayité and Ryan Fredericks on Fulham’s right-flank. He also struggled to get anything going with Robert Snodgrass on Villa’s left-flank.
Mile Jedinak – 5
Was noticeably sluggish as Fulham were a lot quicker and smarter than the opponents he faced the previous weekend. He was caught out several times in the middle of the park.
Robert Snodgrass – 5
Snodgrass started off on the left flank, the side he didn’t fancy playing for West Ham. He never really got going and came inside rather than give Villa any threat on the left hand side. Disappointing.
Conor Hourihane – 5.5
With Grealish and Adomah missing, there was a lot of expectation on Hourihane’s shoulders to instigate Villa’s attacking play. Despite taking some promising positions in the first half and having one shot blocked and another sail over, he didn’t influence play enough and came up second best against Fulham’s midfield.
Birkir Bjarnason – 7
Was a dynamic force in the first half, giving Villa some drive and tempo going forward. Was unlucky perhaps not to have his name on the score sheet. Was sold down the river when Fredericks’ nutmegged him in the second half. Perhaps will start against Preston after Jedinak was a bit sluggish at times.
Scott Hogan – 5
Hogan’s touch count was 18, but he did manage one of the only two Villa shots on target. Tactically, maybe a forward who could hold the ball up better and be more of a target man, considering the loss of Grealish and Adomah, may have been a wiser option?
Off the Bench
Lewis Grabban (66) – 5
Despite being on for 25 minutes hardly saw the ball with only five touches. An opportunity to announce himself to Villa fans went begging.
Josh Onomah (45) – 6
Got on the ball in just one half of football, as much as Snodgrass and Hourihane did in the whole game. However, never really did anything with it to improve Villa’s fortunes. A real opportunity missed for the player.
Keinan Davies (87) – N/A
Maybe Davies should have come on a little earlier, as he always gets involved no matter how long he is on the pitch.
Team Performance – 6
In the first half Villa did well as a team limiting Fulham’s threat and managed to fashion the odd half-chance. In the second half though, they seemed lacking in ideas and when Fulham switched up a gear, Villa seemed a very average team. Having only 37% of the possession told the story of which team was bossing the game.