Berbatov finds sparkle as old guard arrest Fulham slide
Fulham 2 Aston Villa 0
Fulham's Dad's Army had already waved the white flag of surrender under former manager Martin Jol. But the old boys may just have been given a new lease of life by Rene Meulensteen.
Having taken over from Jol, Meulensteen has resisted the temptation to toss aside the old guard. He has even stuck by Dimitar Berbatov, despite the Bulgarian's agent claiming that his client wants to quit Craven Cottage in January.
Meulensteen put his faith in 32-year-old Berbatov, 36-year-old Giorgos Karagounis and 30-year-old Steve Sidwell against Aston Villa's youthful side. The combined age of midfielders Karagounis, Sidwell and Scott Parker was 99.
The decision paid dividends as Berbatov and Sidwell scored the goals that sent Fulham level on points with fourth-bottom West Ham. Karagounis rolled back the years by splitting the Villa defence on numerous occasions with his inventive passing.
Asked about the advanced years of his team, Meulensteen said: "What you get in exchange is experience. Berbatov makes a difference, absolutely. I thought he was excellent on Wednesday as well, but you saw what he's capable of. We had a good chat and we know what games we've got coming up to January, and he's committed to Fulham."
Meulensteen refused to speculate what would happen regarding Berbatov in the new year. "I don't want to answer that. I'll do that with the people who are relevant to discuss these things. I couldn't be more delighted with his performance. The players should be delighted with themselves."
Berbatov had appeared uninterested under Jol this season, scoring just one Premier League goal and spending most of the time with his arms in the air.
But for the first 45 minutes against Villa, Berbatov was back to his brilliant best and that was enough for Fulham.
Fulham made their pressure count in the 21st minute, when Berbatov headed the ball down, Ashkan Dejagah helped it into the area and Sidwell somehow clipped a shot over Guzan.
Fulham's second goal was down to the individual brilliance of Berbatov. The former Manchester United man played a sublime volleyed pass that caught out the Villa defence and sent Alexander Kacaniklic racing into the area.
Kacaniklic may have made the most of it, but Leandro Bacuna made a clumsy challenge on the Fulham player and Mike Dean had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Up stepped Berbatov with the coolest of penalties for only his second Premier League goal of the season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)