While Aston Villa proved they can win without Jack Grealish, this was such a missed opportunity for Fulham. Leading through Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal, Scott Parker’s side failed to climb out of a relegation zone as they conceded three goals in the final 12 minutes as Dean Smith’s attacking substitutions reaped rich reward.
Mahmoud Trezeguet scored his first two goals of the season, the second from a superb cross by fellow replacement Keinan Davis, before Ollie Watkins, fresh from making a goalscoring debut for England last week, wrapped up a satisfying recovery by Villa by ending his club drought.
Yet it was all there for Fulham. Mitrovic, having scored five times for Serbia over the three recent games, capitalised on a dreadful back pass from Tyrone Mings to move Fulham ahead of Newcastle into 17th place for 17 delusional minutes before they fell to their first defeat in nine away games.
Parker had told his old Newcastle teammate Alan Shearer on the eve of the game that how his relegation rivals fared did not matter as long as Fulham won but the bald truth was that he needed others to slip for his team to climb the table. Newcastle’s draw meant Fulham had the incentive to leave the relegation zone for the first time in four months if they could win here.
This prospect looked all the more likely as the team news landed and Grealish’s name was missing. Villa have won twice in seven games in their captain’s absence, compared with a 50% win ratio when he plays. Dean Smith said beforehand that Grealish suffered minor discomfort after completing his first week’s full training after a shin injury so was not risked.
Villa gave John McGinn, fresh from his goalscoring exploits with Scotland, more freedom to push forward in a bid to play more on the front foot but for most of the first half Fulham looked the better side.
Goalscoring has been their problem however, despite winning two of the previous four away games, and both their returning forwards had good chances: Bobby De Cordova-Reid, their leading goalscorer, headed well wide from Kenny Tete’s right-wing cross early on and Mitrovic had an instinctive shot superbly parried by Emiliano Martínez. When, nine minutes before the interval, Joachim Andersen stretched at the far post to divert wide a free-kick from Ademola Lookman that somehow eluded everyone, goalkeeper included, Mings recognised the malaise. “Hey everyone,” Villa’s stand-in captain called out. “Lift it up.”
Mario Lemina looked a relieved man not to give away a penalty with two close calls in as many seconds in first-half stoppage time. Firstly McGinn went to ground under the midfielder’s legal pressure; then Watkins collected the loose ball and appeared to be tripped by the same man. Andrew Madley, the referee, awarded the penalty but decided he had made a clear and obvious mistake when visiting the TV monitor.
The portents were all there for Fulham. They just needed to create more goalscoring opportunities or, conversely, be granted one. There appeared to be very little pressure after Fulham pressing in midfield saw the ball ricochet all the way back to Ezri Konsa. He played it short back to Mings who underhit his back pass and allowed Mitrovic to round Martínez and slot the ball in for his first Premier League goal since September.
Villa responded well, and Smith made positive substitutions to turn the tide, introducing the two forwards. Mings made amends for his misdemeanour by marauding forward and, receiving Matt Targett’s short pass down the left wing, crossing for Trezeguet to shoot home first time with his left foot.
Three minutes later Davis pressured an indecisive Tosin Adarabioyo into giving up possession and powered on up the right wing before crossing for Trezeguet to steer in a low right-footed volley.
When Bertrand Traoré jinked his way past two defenders with ease and centred across the face of goal, Watkins was on hand to turn in his first goal in eight club games.