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Positives and negatives: Fulham 1-2 Aston Villa

Written by Cameron Ramsey on 18th February 2024

© Adam Farquharson

Fulham didn’t quite have enough to claw back a point against Unai Emery’s Champions League-chasing Aston Villa. It isn’t a humiliating defeat but certain factors, explored by Cam, certainly are.


Rodrigo’s sensational revival

Four goals in three starts, flying higher than ever in black and white, Rodrigo Muniz’s recent revival has been nothing short of sensational and his smart poacher’s finish in the 63rd minute is indicative of a striker that is doing whatever it takes to become Fulham’s main man up top, against all odds.

In the first half, the Brazilian put Clement Lenglet and Pau Torres to work. He hared after raking long balls, he shunted shoulders and he didn’t wait to try his luck from wherever the ball landed. This is a young man that has suddenly realised their underlying potential, with the help and guidance of his peers, he is excelling in an environment he would’ve been nowhere near a few months, but something’s inspired him to the point where he is one of the English top-flight’s hottest hitmen at this very moment.

He chipped away at Villa’s defensive line, nothing was a lost cause if he could possibly get on the end of it and that’s how he pegged the visitors back. Emiliano Martinez didn’t sense danger, neither did Lenglet and unannounced, Muniz nipped in to steer it into a vacant Hammy End net. Anticipation, enjoyment, Rodrigo is thriving with a grin wider than any Cheshire Cat’s and from here on out, he cannot look back at what’s been and gone.

This is a player that is unrecognisable. He’s physical, he’s first to flick-ons and in front of the target, he is composed and clinical. It’s miraculous, his upturn in form has made me and many, many others chow down on humble pie and while he may still endure tricky spells as every number nine does, he has to relish this period of his career because his happiness is infectious, and it is doing wonders in the final third.

Silva’s subs shone

Silva’s subs after the interval definitely made a telling difference. First, we saw the introduction of Alex Iwobi for Willian, then Harry Wilson for Bobby Decordova-Reid, followed by Adama Traore and Calvin Bassey for Andreas Pereira and Tim Ream respectively. All four of them were made made impacts in their own way and if anything, Silva can now shake up his starting selection, knowing we’ve good options to pick and choose from.

Both Iwobi and Bassey returned from the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this week, Nigeria were defeated by Ivory Coast in the final and while we wished them well on their journey throughout the tournament, we were still without two huge components and the reception they both received was tremendous. Alex was targeted by trolls in the aftermath of the Super Eagles’ loss, he deleted his social media to deflect further abuse but he couldn’t be more wanted at the Cottage.

Iwobi instigated neat patterns from the left and he was heavily involved centrally, too. He was an imaginative outlet, he fired goal bound when chances came his way and in general, he lifted the energy both on and off the pitch. Calvin was assertive on his favoured left side, imperious in the air and unlike Tim, his turn of pace offset Villa’s attackers as they attempted to find a third goal. The Naija Whites are so important, they restored a balance moving forward and they stabilised us defensively and now they’re back in SW6, they are undoubted shoo-ins for the foreseeable.

Wilson, initially on the opposite flank to Alex, also caused issues for Villa with his directness. He drew clumsy fouls from Alex Moreno and others that tried to stop him in his tracks by hook or crook. The Welshman carried possession from wide into inverted areas, driving through the heart of the visitors and that was enough to panic them to the extent that they had no other choice but to upend him. Selfless offensive effort, and he was inches away from providing Muniz a second goal with a cushioned volley across target.

We’ve plenty of options when it comes to wingers and we were strengthened further by Traore’s might on the right. Interchanging with Wilson, Adama got at Moreno from the second he stepped into the mix. He’s a truly terrifying attacker, Moreno messed his boxers every time Traore sized him up and the only factor missing from the Spaniard’s game is a keen finisher’s instinct.

He really should’ve levelled it up, Martinez lessened the angle but clean through, the ball had to find a corner, but it didn’t. Nevertheless, the former Villa man was a nuisance, he isn’t one to let play pass him by and when it got down to nitty gritty business, he lobbed his weight around to impede our guests’ sudden change of momentum.


Literally threw points away

Not playing a flat, square ball across your own penalty area is one of the first fundamental rules you learn when you first kick ball, especially when the opposition are in the process of boxing you in. Antonee Robinson obviously missed that specific training session way back when. Villa took full advantage of Robinson’s loose throw in, they pickpocketed Willian on the edge of the penalty area and before Issa Diop could even sidestep into nowhere, they’d netted.

Willian was forced into a more than awkward situation in an area he rarely inhabits defensively, he should’ve shielded the ball better but he was ambushed, and he really shouldn’t have found himself in that position anyway. Prior to Villa’s opener, the Whites were on the hunt themselves but we for whatever reason we simply can’t help it, we continually shoot ourselves in the foot and at the very least, no matter how you spin it, it’s a very good point dropped because on balance, we were deserving of more than a narrow loss.

Ollie Watkins could very well have bagged his second of the afternoon if his first never arose, we’d have found the equaliser and we would’ve secured a 1-1 draw. The England striker’s first was avoidable, Jedi should’ve hurled it up the touchline and the passage that caused needless defensive peril shouldn’t have seen the light of day. I guess you live and you learn, even if you’re a professional footballer that should be au fait with the Biff and Chip basics.

Novice ref was terrible

Why are we the PGMOL’s guinea pig for their deeply flawed experiments? I get it, everyone’s got to cut their teeth somehow, experience isn’t gained by paddling in the shallows but Lewis Smith was quite clearly out of his depth by at least two divisions and ten years. At 30, Smith should be old and bold enough to own a set of bollocks that are strong enough to run the rule, man-to-man, but as he doesn’t, he chose to wave away blatant infringements, he was influenced by player and crowd reactions and he fell for Villa’s incessant playacting, which has always, always been a feature of their gameplan.

To put it bluntly, Smith’s Premier League debut with the notepad and whistle was wank, and it isn’t an occasion to be proud of, either. He simply didn’t cope when the heat quite rightly cranked up in the closing stages, tempers reached boiling point as hunchback helmets like John McGinn simulated countless fouls and as added time was riddled with stoppages, you’d think he’d allocate a few extra minutes to subsidise the ones of actual game time we’d lost to the visitors’ rehearsed gamesmanship, right? Well, you’d be hopelessly wrong if you thought that would be the case. The ball was in play for a minute of the five. He couldn’t wait to get out of there, all he could think about was nuzzling Martin Glenn’s bosom.

He baulked at the prospect of laying down the law as it should be, there were no stern words, just a flurry of yellow cards because that’s all these green, pussyfooted novices are good for. This was surely a date in his diary that was circled in red, a day to show the Chris Kavanagh and the rest of those conceited bellends how it’s really done with a fresh, innovative, modern approach to refereeing but he is just a younger version of the morons that paved the way before him, and that doesn’t bode well.

He is supposed to be the future of top-flight officiating in this country and that is massively disappointing. His seniors will pat him on the back and squeeze both sets of cheeks because he is nothing more than a pump puppet, and he eventually had the piss ripped out of him by everyone in attendance.

Joao’s 2-match ban

The entire planet knows Joao Palhinha is an all-action, cage rattling, no fucks given midfield exterminator that goes to ground at the first time of asking. He is seen to be one of the game’s finest disruptors, a holding midfielder that could slot into virtually every starting XI, anywhere, but as he’s never too far away from a caution or nine, his latest yellow took his season’s tally to ten and that means he’ll now miss our next two fixtures against Manchester United and Brighton and Hove Albion. Get in the bin.

This is obviously very bad news indeed. Palhinha left the turf in an attempt to charge down McGinn and he caught the Scotsman as gravity took over. 99.75% of Palhinha’s challenges were impeccably timed, he’s a blackbelt in his profession but unfortunately, his combativeness often incurs punishment and as we’ve got to face an in-form United and Roberto De Zerbi’s clockwork Seagulls, we’re going to notice Joao’s absence more than ever before. Reaching double figure yellows was inevitable, it was a ticking timebomb, a dead cert, and while we could all see it coming, it doesn’t make J-Pally’s latest ban any easier to swallow.

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