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Baird makes Villa pay - Fulham 1-0 Aston Villa

Northern Irishman grabs only goal in dominant display that could still have easily ended differently.

Clive Rose

For quite some time on Saturday afternoon it felt as if it would just be one of those evenings. One of those evenings where, despite monumental pressure, you never quite make that breakthrough that is so richly deserved and required.

But, then again, we've got Bairdinho.

Yes, it was the free-scoring Northern Irishman that did the work for Fulham here, securing the points against a particularly drab and disappointing Aston Villa side. Paul Lambert's side travelled to London seemingly intent on making life easy for their hosts and yet, in spite of this, Fulham made this more challenging than it needed to be.

Villa were beyond poor, passing haphazardly and gifting Martin Jol's side chances whenever it was possible. But they didn't take advantage in the way they should have done.

It was difficult to blame any particular team member, though. The lack of proficiency in front of goal prompted Jol to give Ashkan Dejagah his Fulham debut on seventy minutes and his influence was palpable.

He hit a stinging shot which was well met by Villa's Brad Guzan and, in general, looked lively, direct and threatening.

The same couldn't be said, though, of a first half in which Fulham dictated the game but didn't necessarily threaten. Both Dimitar Berbatov and Kieron Richardson tested Guzan from close range early on but nothing of a similar intensity followed.

It was 39 minutes in until Berbatov threatened again, but he miscued a volley and sliced it into the stand. Steve Sidwell went close after meeting a Hugo Rodallega free kick to round of what was a frustrating 45 minutes.

Lambert gave his players at least some impetus to improve at half time but it certainly didn't last. Gabriel Agbonlahor came close twice but, soon after, Villa dwindled back into their previous submission.

Fulham were pressing but, still, to no avail; at least until Chris Baird stepped up. John Arne Riise, on set piece duty for the day, swung a corner in that the makeshift central midfielder met first. The celebrations which followed were formed more through relief than joy.

But it could so easily have been short lived as Christian Benteke, on to replace Darren Bent, missed a glorious chance barely moments later. His shot went wide after Charles N'Zogbia had carved open an opportunity for him.

Still, Jol will be grateful, because things could easily have, somehow, ended so differently.