Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Fulham held by Villa

Shay Given
Shay Given

Aston Villa and Fulham fans were given an opening-day reality check as Craven Cottage's Barclays Premier League season kicked off with a dour goalless draw.

Both sides lacked the quality to make the breakthrough, with the hosts guilty of squandering good chances through John Arne Riise, Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson.

That was partly down to an impressive debut for new Villa goalkeeper Shay Given who, along with fellow new boy Charles N'Zogbia, was one of few positives in new manager Alex McLeish's first competitive game in charge.

The home support should have been given something to cheer in the 10th minute when Danny Murphy poked a ball through for the unmarked Riise, who blazed over with the goal at his mercy.

Villa were playing an interesting 4-2-3-1 formation, with £9.5million man N'Zogbia, Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor playing just off Darren Bent. But they were lacking penetration, as well as the imagination to try something unexpected, unlike Fulham's Damien Duff, who volleyed over right-footed from 25 yards.

The visitors were almost gifted a 20th-minute opener when Richard Dunne pumped a hopeful ball down the left and Philippe Senderos lost track of Heskey, who volleyed straight at Mark Schwarzer.

Heskey should have headed N'Zogbia's right-wing cross on target, with the ball appearing to screw off the former England striker's shoulder. Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov then went as close as anyone with a 35-yard piledriver which flashed just over.

A goalkeeper was finally called into significant action four minutes before the break when Johnson cut inside Collins and blasted straight at Given, before Zamora did likewise. Johnson had an even better chance moments later but he scuffed his shot too close to the goalkeeper.

Substitute Marc Albrighton flashed Bent's cutback into the side-netting with 15 minutes remaining, Villa's first shot of the half.

Fulham had already sacrificed Zamora for Mousa Dembele but the visitors were in the ascendancy and Dunne's header from Fabian Delph's corner was deflected narrowly wide.

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