Aston Villa's Expensive Buys Fail To Shine In Fulham Draw

Aston Villa's expensive buys fail to shine in draw against FulhamIn a late effort to appease the Aston Villa fans ahead of the new season, the club's owner, Randy Lerner, wrote to season-ticket holders midweek to acknowledge the turmoil that has vexed the club since Martin O'Neill's departure.

Lerner was candidly critical of Gerard Houllier's brief reign, describing it as "fraught with the unexpected", "frustrating" and "at times even disappointing". But the American urged supporters to believe they had acquired a "very special football man" in Alex McLeish, the Scotsman's prior colours notwithstanding.

There was, however, little special about McLeish's team's performance at Fulham on Saturday, despite the inclusion of new signings Charles N'Zogbia and Shay Given, as they fought a keen but joyless battle at Craven Cottage.

A match that began slowly and ended goalless could have been profitable for both sides had either of them shown greater accuracy.

When former Liverpool player John Arne Riise, making his league debut for Fulham, was played through by Danny Murphy's slide-rule pass in the 10th minute the Norwegian ought to have hit the target. Instead his lashed effort rose agonisingly over the bar.

Villa, with N'Zogbia switching between the flanks behind an attacking trio of Darren Bent, Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor, found Fulham's net in the 23rd minute, though Bent was half a yard offside when he received the critical pass from Heskey. The closing minutes before the interval offered the most sustained action; Petrov's long-range drive went just over for Villa before Andrew Johnson sent a thundering shot straight at Shay Given having himself fashioned the chance.

The second half was similarly sporadic, and neither side possessed the ball sufficiently to prise the other apart. Bobby Zamora dallied after collecting a raking pass and offered a weak, toe-poked shot straight at Given when the chance of a half-volley had been wasted.

For N'Zogbia, who cost £9.5m of the near £40m raised from the sales of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, the afternoon was especially frustrating. He may well become the fulcrum of this Villa side, but today's performance betrayed a lack of synchronicity with his new team-mates. His guile and skill were not at fault, but his distribution suggested he expected team-mates to be in positions they were never likely to fill. The Frenchman was substituted in the 66th minute for Marc Albrighton, but even Albrighton could not rouse his team-mates.

Fulham, who have already played half a dozen Europa League qualifiers this season, can be happy with a point; Martin Jol is now unbeaten in seven competitive matches since taking over from Mark Hughes. These teams finished only a point and a place apart last season; the signs are they won't be too far apart this season either.

Powered by article was written by Jonny Weeks at Craven Cottage, for The Observer on Saturday 13th August 2011 17.13 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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