Aston Villa keep up winning start and leave Fulham looking out of their depth | Football

It was hard not to feel sorry for Bobby Decordova-Reid as he saw the claret and blue shirts swarming towards him. The Fulham winger knew his hopes of sparking a counterattack were fading. Decordova-Reid had no support from his teammates and he could do nothing more than boom an up-and-under towards Emi Martínez, Aston Villa’s underworked goalkeeper.

It was the kind of thing you see from a player looking to protect a lead in the closing stages. Only Fulham were 3-0 down and there was more than half an hour left. Villa had played them off the park and there was no sign that any of Scott Parker’s players believe they belong at this level.

Three games in and Fulham, promoted after winning the play-offs, already look destined to return to the Championship. They are yet to pick up a point, have conceded 10 times and have a goal difference of minus seven, underlining the need for Tony Khan, Fulham’s director of football operations, to strengthen the squad before the transfer window shuts next Monday.

“I apologize to @FulhamFC supporters for our performance tonight,” he tweeted at full-time. “We’ve looked to add centre-backs since Wembley, I’m sorry we haven’t yet as 2 got COVID + we lost a Free we thought was close + had another issue with a 4th CB. I promise players in + better efforts from this squad.”

Parker was diplomatic about Khan’s post. But Fulham, whose hopes of signing Marlon are over after the Sassuolo defender failed a medical, were lucky it ended 3-0.

After staying up on the final day last season, Villa are feeling quietly optimistic after opening with two wins. Jack Grealish ran the show, John McGinn oozed class in midfield and although sterner tests lie in wait, it was impossible to pick any holes in a purposeful performance.

Villa exposed Fulham’s defensive deficiencies after four minutes. None of the home players were alive to the danger when McGinn received a pass 30 yards from goal. There was no push to close the space from Fulham’s frail midfield and McGinn had time to lift a pass through to Grealish, who drilled a low shot through Alphonse Areola’s legs.

Conor Hourihane scores Aston VIlla’s second goal in their 3-0 win at Craven Cottage. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/NMC Pool/The Guardian

McGinn, who took the breath away with a glorious dragback as half-time approached, provided the assist for Villa’s second in the 15th minute. This time, though, the spark came from Grealish, exchanging passes with Ollie Watkins and slicing Fulham open with a sharp burst before playing a clever pass to McGinn, who teed up Conor Hourihane for another emphatic finish.

“In terms of defending, we weren’t good enough,” Parker said. “It’s an area that everyone at the club can see. We played very well for large parts but the first time they’re in our box they score a goal. You can’t give up goals in this division and expect to win.”

Outnumbered in midfield, Fulham were limited in their 3-4-3 system. Aleksandar Mitrovic found it hard to shake off Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings, Villa’s centre-backs. The visitors were a solid unit and on the one occasion when Mitrovic looked poised to give his markers the slip Matty Cash stormed across from right‑back to dispossess the Fulham striker.

“There was a real desire from the whole team to keep the ball out the net,” said Dean Smith, the Villa manager.

Cash looks like a smart buy from Nottingham Forest. Villa have shown ambition. Watkins gives them mobility in attack after arriving from Brentford and Grealish’s decision to sign a new deal has given everyone at Villa Park a lift.

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Grealish, who will surely be named in the England squad on Thursday, is a special talent. Two minutes into the second half he pushed the ball past Denis Odoi and tore past the centre-back despite giving him a five-yard headstart. Odoi was booked for dragging Villa’s talisman down and Fulham capitulated from the resulting free-kick, freezing as Mings converted Hourihane’s delivery.

Fulham’s misery deepened when Mitrovic had a goal disallowed after a VAR review detected a foul by the Serb on Konsa.

Villa had their clean sheet and Fulham were left to contemplate how to navigate the long road ahead.

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