Injuries forced Lambert to alter his starting line-up once more ahead of kick-off this afternoon. With Vlaar, Luna and Kozak all suffering injuries, Agbonlahor donned the captain’s armband and Chris Herd, last seen in competitive action on January 1st, was handed a place in the starting XI.
From the outset, Fulham were on the offensive, seeking to push the visitors back. The home side called for a penalty after eight minutes when Clark seemed to push Berbatov off the ball in the box but their cries were in vain.
Spurred on by what they sensed was an injustice, the Cottagers kept pushing and a mere minute later a header from Berbatov forced a fine save from Guzan.
Soaking up the pressure, the Villans soon had a chance of their own when Agbonlahor’s cross found Benteke in the box but the Belgian headed wide.
Undeterred, the Belgian shot from just inside the box but Stekelenburg was able to make the save.
Delph then found himself booked, for the fifth time this season, which rules him out of next Sunday’s home tie against Manchester United.
Baker then came to Villa’s rescue with a goal-line clearance to stop Kakaniclic opening the scoring.
In the twenty-first minute, seriously sloppy defending allowed former Villa player Sidwell to brush off Bacuna and nudge the ball past Guzan.
Nine minutes later, things went from bad to worse for Bacuna as his challenge gave Fulham a penalty, albeit a soft one. As cool as a cucumber, Berbatov sent Guzan the wrong way and added to his side’s lead.
With eight minutes of the first half remaining, Berbatov’s low shot meant Guzan needed to make another shrewd save.
On the stroke of half time, as a foul on Benteke on the edge of the area led to a free kick, Bacuna, who had been at fault for both goals, had a chance to bring Villa back into the game but he shot over the bar.
Ahead of the restart, Lambert brought Tonev on for El Ahmadi.
Riise looked the most threatening early in the second half, attempting an audacious volley that Herd only just managed to get his head to.
Two minutes later, Riise was heading clear at the other end after Agbonlahor raced past Senderos and crossed the ball in towards the far post.
Karagounis shrugged off the challenges of several Villa players but seemed to strike the ball awkwardly when virtually one-on-one with Guzan from twenty-five yards out.
Seven minutes later, the Greek international was in the thick of the action again, crossing in for Riise, whose effort recoiled off the post.
After half-hearted calls for a penalty when Herd and Sidwell slithered and slid, Weimann should have been awarded one when his shot was blocked by Riise’s arm but Mike Dean was not interested, much to the dismay of the travelling fans.
Dodgy defending ensued, with Guzan struggling to deal with Dejagah’s shot and Herd’s attempt at a clearance ricocheting off Clark.
With just under ten minutes left on the clock, Lowton replaced Herd and Albrighton replaced Weimann.
The Villans should have been awarded a penalty when Hughes brought Agbonlahor down but, once again, Dean waved play on, resulting in a rousing refrain of “2-0 to the referee” from the Villa fans.
As time ticked away, Benteke had a great chance when he struck firmly from the edge of the box but Stekelenburg saved at full stretch.
Speaking after the game, Lambert voiced his disappointment with some of the referee’s decisions:
“I don’t think we did enough to win the game. I am disappointed with some of the decisions, the two penalties for instance. I’ve just spoken to Mike, he had his views on it, mine is different from his.”
As dubious as Mike Dean’s penalty calls may have been, in truth, Lambert’s Lions looked lame and rarely threatened a team that had been in relegation form.