Late leveller and Carew row frustrate Houllier
Fulham 1 Aston Villa 1
Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes had spoken of his frustration at Fulham being considered a small team before yesterday's game, saying: "There is still this perception of 'nice little Fulham', but the manager and us players have other ideas -- we want to be competing with the big clubs."
The centre-back and his colleagues may have a way to go but Brede Hangeland's late equaliser against Aston Villa proved they do not lack fight, and it is heartening to hear that a club with no great riches still believe high ambition in the Premier League is credible.
For Gerard Houllier, though, the disappointment of emerging with only a point was compounded by being forced to respond to comments made by John Carew -- who along with attacking colleagues Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor is on the injury list -- after the Villa manager's statement on Friday that he needed to prove himself with a run in the team.
The Norwegian striker was reported in his country's VG newspaper as saying: "If he wants me to fight for a contract, he should speak to me directly and not through the media. This is disrespectful to me and to the fans who sing my name week in, week out."
But a visibly angry Houllier criticised the player. "I think he's stupid," he said. "How can he say that? I didn't lack respect. I was asked a question in the press conference (regarding the extended run) and I said: 'Yes.' I think he is living in the past at the moment. He should look at figures of how long he has played and the goals he has scored. I didn't lack respect for him but he's shown me a lack of respect. I'm not going to say sorry."
Before Hangeland's injury-time finish Hughes's band of hopeful improvers had welcomed a Houllier gang that had gone 344 minutes since last scoring in the Premier League, with each team on 12 points, separated only by the home side's superior goal difference.
The Villa drought would end on 384 minutes when a sweeping left-to-right diagonal from Barry Bannan found Marc Albrighton, who performed an old-fashioned trap of the ball to move it into his path before finishing beyond Mark Schwarzer.
On the hour Mark Hughes swapped Jonathan Greening for Andrew Johnson before introducing another attacker, Damien Duff, when Carlos Salcido was forced off. When Johnson fluffed his one big chance when clean through on Friedel, Hughes's hopes had appeared to fizzle out. But Hangeland was about to intervene. "We kept going and kept trying to do the right things, which was the key," was the verdict of a delighted Mark Hughes.