Aston Villa missed the chance to go level on points with Manchester United as Rene Meulensteen won his first game in charge of Fulham. Steve Sidwell and Dimitar Berbatov with a penalty were both on target at Craven Cottage.
New Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen made just one alteration to his team that lost in midweek to Spurs with Sidwell replacing Pajtim Kasami in midfield.
Villa manager Paul Lambert meanwhile had two of his three changes to a winning XI over Southampton enforced. Ron Vlaar and Libor Kozak nursed injuries, so Chris Herd deputized in defence and Christian Benteke returned in attack.
A change of formation for the visitors back to 4-3-3 after playing wingbacks at St Marys also meant Antonio Luna dropped out and Andreas Weimann came back.
Hosts Fulham established early pressure with Brad Guzan having to tip Berbatov’s header from a right wing corner onto the bar. Benteke then nodded wide at the other end as Gabrie Agbonlahor got Villa going on the counter.
Last-ditch defending from Ciaran Clark and a goal-line clearance from Nathan Baker denied first Ashkan Dejagah and then Alex Kacaniklic. Meulensteen’s men broke the deadlock on 20 minutes when Sidwell scooped into the far corner from a tight angle.
Scott Parker started Fulham off in a fine team move that saw Dejagah and Berbatov interchange. More good play in attack from the Bulgarian set Kacaniklic in behind the Villa defence on half an hour and he won a penalty.
Leandro Bacuna leant into Kacaniklc, and the Swede felt that contact sufficient to go down in the box. Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot and Berbatov sent Guzan the wrong way, rolling into the opposite corner and doubling Fulham’s lead.
Villa keeper Guzan also turned behind from Berbatov when Sidwell teed him up. Bacuna tried to atone for conceding a soft penalty, but blazed a free kick over the bar just before half time. Lambert threw on Aleksandar Tonev at the break as the visitors chased the game.
Fulham meanwhile looked to seal victory in the second half with Guzan saving Philippe Senderos’s header. Girogos Karagounis also lashed over in a contest that became wide open in midfield.
Guzan then made a hash of handling a cross by the veteran Greek and John Arne Riise headed the loose ball against the post. Other efforts from the Norwegian were blocked by Herd and flashed wide.
Aaron Hughes looked to have brought down Agbonlahor in the Fulham box late on, but match official Dean waved away penalty appeals. Maarten Stekelenburg had to tip over from Benteke at the death, so Villa had no consolation from their trip to the capital.
Meulensteen now has his charges locked together with London rivals Crystal Palace and West Ham in 13 points from 15 matches.
- Fulham: 1 Maarten Stekelenburg, 27 Sascha Riether, 18 Aaron Hughes, 4 Philippe Senderos, 3 John Arne Riise, 28 Scott Parker (c), 14 Giorgos Karagounis (8 Pajtim Kasami 73’), 7 Steve Sidwell, 24 Ashkan Dejagah, 9 Dimitar Berbatov, 11 Alex Kacaniklic (16 Damien Duff 77’) 4-3-3
- Goals: Steve Sidwell 21’, Dimitar Berbatov 30’
- Villa: 1 Brad Guzan, 7 Leandro Bacuna, 17 Chris Herd (34 Matt Lowton 81’), 6 Ciaran Clark, 2 Nathan Baker, 8 Karim El Ahmadi (24 Aleksandar Tonev 46’), 15 Ashley Westwood, 16 Fabian Delph, 10 Andreas Weimann (12 Marc Albrighton 81’), 20 Christian Benteke, 11 Gabriel Agbonlahor (c) 4-3-3