Aston Villa are out of the FA Cup after losing 2-1 to Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Two equally impressive second-half strikes from Anthony Knockaert and Harry Arter took the game away from a Villa side who briefly levelled things through Anwar El Ghazi.
Dean Smith made, as expected, a host of alterations with a Carabao Cup semi-final against Leicester City on Wednesday night and Premier League survival a priority in Villa’s season.
Academy graduates Indianna Vassilev and Jacob Ramsey took their places on the substitutes bench, and both later came on to make senior outings.
Plenty of changes
With a much-changed team, Villa struggled to make many openings in the first half, but the best chance for either side fell to El Ghazi on the stroke of half time. In fact, Marek Rodak made the last touch of the half, tipping El Ghazi’s effort round the post after Johnathan Kodjia found the winger free in the box.
It seemed for all the world a replay was open the cards as the tepid affair continued to stall past the interval until Knockaert showed some real quality from the right flank. Cutting inside, and away from Neil Taylor, the French forward opened up on his left foot and wrapped his shot inside Orjan Nyland’s far post to break the deadlock ten minutes into the second half.
It was a goal fitting to win any cup tie, but El Ghazi and Kodjia had other ideas. As the hour mark passed, Jota, with tidy footwork opened up some space for the Ivorian to run into and chip Rodak with aplomb, but following in was El Ghazi to snatch his fifth goal of the campaign.
If Knockaert’s effort wasn’t to win Fulham the tie, Arter’s goal certainly was. After coming into the game as a substitute, the Ireland international found Nyland’s top corner again from distance, leaving the Norwegian with no chance.
Nyland, now Villa’s first choice after injuries to Tom Heaton and Jed Steer denied Knockaert and Fulham another before the close of play, foiling him in a one on one.
Smith and Villa will now turn their attentions to another cup tie, a semi-final first leg at the King Power Stadium against Leicester City on Wednesday night.