Bullard hands Fulham a lifeline

Fulham kickstart their fightback with a comeback win over Aston Villa.

    The prodigal son returns: Jimmy Bullard makes his
    mark [GALLO/GETTY] 
    Jimmy Bullard ended English Premier League side Fulham's winless run with a stunning late free-kick that clinched a 2-1 victory against Aston Villa.
    Bullard struck with four minutes to play at Craven Cottage after Simon Davies had cancelled out Fulham defender Aaron Hughes's own goal against his former club.
    Roy Hodgson's side had gone 14 matches without a win and were in danger of being cast adrift in the battle to avoid relegation, so Bullard's match-winning performance will give them renewed hope of beating the drop.
    It was fitting that Bullard should be the game's key figure. The midfielder only recently returned from 18 months out with a knee injury and this was the kind of moment he would have dreamed about during his gruelling rehabilitation.
    Bullard said: "After so long out to comeback like that is unbelievable. I can't believe I scored the winner.
    "Just to be out there kicking a ball, let alone scoring, is fantastic.
    "Even when we went a goal down we still believed. We know we are still in a fight but if we show that every week we will be fine."
    Villa's eight-match unbeaten run in the league is over but manager Martin O'Neill will be just as worried by an injury to Gabriel Agbonlahor, who was forced off at half-time with a hamstring problem that could rule him out of England's friendly against Switzerland on Wednesday.
    O'Neill's side arrived unbeaten in their last nine away league games and it was easy to see why as they soaked up Fulham's intermittent spells of pressure.
    Although Agbonlahor struggled to show the form that earned him a call-up to Fabio Capello's England squad, Villa had two good chances to take the lead.
    Shaun Maloney was off-target with a snapshot in the 36th minute before Carew just failed to turn in Maloney's cross.
    Dempsey should have given Fulham the lead soon after the break.  The American met Paul Koncheskey's cross six yards from goal but mistimed his header.

    Fulham were made to pay for that miss in the 69th minute as Villa's set-piece expertise came to the fore again.
    Maloney's corner was flicked on by Olof Mellberg and Hughes, attempting to hook clear, succeeded only in deflecting the ball off his knee and into his own net.
    Villa's lead was shortlived though as Hodgson's side levelled four minutes later.
    Bullard's cross was perfectly weighted for Davies to run across his marker and glance a shot into the far corner.
    Maloney forced Antti Niemi into a stretching save as the Fulham keeper clawed away his inswinging free-kick.
    But Bullard had already played the provider for his side's first goal and he wasn't finished yet.
    In the 86th minute, Davies fouled Diomansy Kamara and Bullard stepped up to curl the free-kick past Carson.

    Honours even: Robert Huth, left, celebrates his
    goal [GALLO/GETTY] 
    Huth earns Boro a point

    Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan was denied the first win of his second coming as Robert Huth's late equaliser earned Middlesbrough a 1-1 draw at St James' Park.
    Keegan was hailed as the returning messiah when he took charge of Newcastle for the second time in his career last month. But reality is already biting hard after this agonising near-miss against their north-east rivals.
    Michael Owen had given Newcastle the lead when he scored the first goal of Keegan's four-match reign, and his first in the league since October, in the second half, but the hosts sat back and were punished when Huth levelled with three minutes to go.
    Huth's header extended Newcastle's winless run in the league to eight matches and deepened the sense that Keegan faces a mammoth task to fulfill the fans' expectations.
    Middlesbrough were understandably delighted to frustrate Keegan.  Gareth Southgate's side are unbeaten in six matches and were well worth a point.
    Keegan claimed Huth's goal was offside but he could at least take comfort from Owen's typically deadly finish.
    "I thought their goal was offside but we showed plenty of effort," he said. "We were just a bit short of composure. It was the best performance of my time here. I'm very pleased with the spirit.
    "Michael deserved a goal. It was a quarter chance, the type he's made a living off. He's been tremendous since I've been here."
    Keegan's appointment had been greeted with hysteria on Tyneside, with predictions of a return to the cavalier football that enthralled during his first spell at the club in the 1990s.
    The response from the players had been rather more prosaic after three matches without a goal and only two shots on target.
    From Emre's corner, Owen had the ball in the net but his effort was harshly ruled out for a slight nudge on Mark Schwarzer that caused the Middlesbrough keeper to fumble.
    Owen beat Schwarzer for a second time but again the England striker was denied by the officials as Emre's corner had drifted out of play.
    Middlesbrough, playing with Jeremie Aliadiere as a lone forward, were content to stifle the hosts and launch occasional counter-attacks.
    They threatened only once when Newcastle midfielder Nicky Butt conceded possession. Aliadiere pounced on the loose ball but his weak shot was straight at Shay Given.
    Stewart Downing forced Given to a make a sprawling save early in the second half when he cut in from the left and curled a low shot towards the far corner. O'Neil lashed the rebound back at Given but a pass would have given Aliadiere a tap-in. It was a costly mistake.
    Calls for Owen to be left out of Fabio Capello's first England squad were understandable after the forward's disappointing campaign.
    But Capello knows there are few players with Owen's predatory instincts and he underlined that point on the hour.
    Luke Young fouled Charles N'Zogbia and Emre whipped in a near-post free-kick that Owen met with a glancing header past  Schwarzer to give Newcastle their first goal in 455 minutes.
    O'Neil should have equalised soon after when surged past Claudio  Cacapa, only to drag his shot wide of the far post.
    Southgate's team were denied again when Given pushed David Wheater's shot out toward Lee Dong-Gook. It took a superb last-ditch tackle from Cacapa to clear the danger.
    But Newcastle were looking nervous and they paid the price in the 87th minute when Germany defender Huth rose about Stephen Carr to loop his header over Given.
    It could have been worse for Keegan as Downing hit the post with a stoppage time free-kick.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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