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Fulham on course for four in a row - Game preview - Aston Villa (a)

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Fulham faced Aston Villa on the opening day of the season and since then, you have to feel that while one club has found some sanctity in a new lease of life, the other has been left in a decline somewhat hastened by a manager not overly liked by the majority of its supporters. The 0-0 draw at the time was perhaps a signifier of parity but, even more so, it was a signifier of passive new regimes.

Passive, though, was the early days of Martin Jol's tenure. Recently, the words passive and Fulham would be quite the oxymoron for this is now a handsome and fluent footballing side, capable of the most picturesque passages of play. A complete transformation would very much be an overstatement but the change in playing style under Jol is evident and nothing short of encouraging. We push forward with far more potency now than recent Fulham history would suggest is normal and, even though it comes with its own heady risks, the feeling around SW6 right now is one of satisfaction and content.

For all the niceties, however, the season is not over yet. The test of Aston Villa away from home will prove as much because, while we may play a brand of football that we could well write home about, we rarely win on our travels. In fact, to do so is a delicacy in the same league as caviar at McDonalds or a year's peace at Liverpool FC.

That's why the likes of Brede Hangeland have called for some sort of commitment to the cause when we visit the Midlands on Saturday. "Maybe we need to try and go away from home and try to play exactly like we do at home," Hangeland explained to If only it were that simple.

There is, however, an acceptance that Aston Villa would be one of the safer places to travel to as the Cottagers attempt to win four league games in a row. The home side sit in 15th and look a shadow of their former, Martin O'Neill-led selves. They haven't won since January and recent draws with Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers were particularly demoralising.

Fulham, meanwhile are enjoying themselves. The systematic deconstruction of a fragile Wolverhampton Wanderers defence was the evidence needed to show that this is a side that carries a genuine and volatile threat. Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey, Andrew Johnson and Pavel Pogrebnyak were the key men in the 5-0 rout and Villa will be wary of the foursome yet again.

Last year in the same fixture, Mark Hughes' Fulham side travelled North to take a respectable 2-2 draw with Johnson and Dempsey cancelling out Villa's goals - one of which came from John Pantsil.

Darren Bent, Richard Dunne and Fabian Delph all remain on the sidelines for Villa, but there are no new absentees to speak of.

Ruiz is back in contention following illness ahead of the Wolves victory but Stephen Kelly and Aaron Hughes miss out. Zdenek Grygera and Steve Sidwell will play no part.

Jol has openly stated that new signing Mahamadou Diarra is nearing full fitness and there's a chance he'll make the starting eleven.

Predicted line-up: Schwarzer; Riise, Hangeland, Senderos, Baird; Duff, Murphy, Dembele, Dempsey; Johnson, Pogrebnyak

Score prediction: Aston Villa 1 - 2 Fulham