Aston Villa are out of the FA Cup after being beaten 2-1 by Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Dean Smith went into the game with a horrid record in the competition, only reaching the fourth round once in his previous eight attempts and yet to do so with Aston Villa.
After a poor first half Fulham took the lead through Anthony Knockaert but they were pegged back by Anwar El Ghazi.
Undeterred, however, Fulham won the game with a strike from Harry Arter sending them into the fourth round at the expense of their Premier League opponents.
But what did we learn from the match?
1. Jonathan Kodjia is no replacement for Wesley
Wesley was always unlikely to start this game as Dean Smith would have opted to rest his starting striker but the game against Fulham allowed Aston Villa a chance to see how they could fare without him.
Unfortunately, Wesley is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury picked up in Villa’s 2-1 win at Burnley on New Year’s Day after scoring his fifth Premier League goal of the campaign. With Wesley out, Villa only have two recognised strikers fit in their squad in the form of Jonathan Kodjia and Keinan Davis.
They have also been linked with action in the January transfer window, with Chelsea pair Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi among those reportedly being considered to replace Wesley. And after Saturday’s showing, it’s clear Villa do need to sign a new striker.
Kodjia started the FA Cup third round clash against Fulham at Craven Cottage, joined by Jota and Anwar El Ghazi in Dean Smith’s front three. But it was a quiet start for the Ivorian who has scored just twice this season, against a young Liverpool side in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. It took 24 minutes for Kodjia to have Villa’s first shot of the game but his effort was wide of the goal from close range, failing to test Marek Rodak in the Fulham goal.
He did look lively at times and saw a goal stolen by teammate El Ghazi on the line, but his overall performance really wasn’t good enough to prove he can be Villa’s starting striker for the second half of the season.
2. Anthony Knockaert adds shine to gloomy tie
As fans of Fulham and Aston Villa will no doubt agree, this FA Cup third round tie was one to forget. Both sides really struggled to put their stamp on the game, with clear cut chances coming few and far between.
It’ll come as no surprise, then, that the tie was sparked into by a moment of magic from Anthony Knockaert.
In the absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Knockaert was undoubtedly Fulham’s best offensive player with most of their attacks coming through the Frenchman. However, the first half was a frustrating one as he couldn’t get on the same wavelength as his teammates.
So, in the second half he decided to go at it on his own, and what a decision it was. Leading a counter attack with Aston Villa stretched, Knockaert broke down the right flank and as he got towards the opposition area opted to cut inside. A similar run in the first half, when there were better options, led to Knockaert having a shot blocked much to the frustration of his teammates.
But there would be no such frustration this time as Knockaert curled the ball beautifully into the top left corner of the net, passed the outstretched arms of Orjan Nyland.
He could have had a second in injury time after a brilliant run but his finish when one-on-one with Nyland was a let down.
3. Aston Villa miss cutting edge without Grealish
With one eye on the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Leicester City in midweek, Dean Smith naturally fielded a rotated XI but it was perhaps a surprise to see Jack Grealish absent from the matchday squad.
Grealish has been Villa’s best player for the past few years but the Englishman stepped up his game this season and is the standout star, leading to links with a move away.
In the Premier League this season Grealish has scored more goals (6), recorded more assists (5) and created more chances (52) than any other Aston Villa player. He is also the Premier League’s most fouled player, being stopped illegally 88 times, 20 more than the next player.
Against Fulham his absence was clear with Villa really struggling to create too many genuine goalscoring chances. Even their goal came more from a defensive error by Michael Hector which was capitalised on, rather than Villa’s own work.
And when Fulham took a 2-1 lead going into the final 20 minutes, Dean Smith didn’t have the options on the bench to change the game. Trezeguet, Indiana Vassilev and Jacob Ramsey were the players to come on from the bench but they didn’t add too much in terms of creativity.
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4. Harry Arter proves to be shock hero
When Harry Arter joined Fulham on loan from Bournemouth in August, there were some mentions of nepotism with the midfielder being Scott Parker’s brother-in-law, as many will know.
Arter was thrown straight into the Fulham team and played in 10 of Fulham’s opening 12 games, missing one as he hadn’t signed yet and another due to suspension. But since a 2-0 draw with Stoke City on October 19 Arter had not featured for Fulham.
— The Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 4, 2020
Initially ruled out due to injury, Arter was unable to find his way back into the side upon his return. He was finally handed an opportunity on the bench against Aston Villa and when Parker was looking to win the game, on he came.
Not many would have expected him to have the impact he did, however. Just two minutes after coming on, Arter received the ball 30 yards out and lashed a shot into the top left corner of the net, seeing Nyland beaten once more and edging ahead of Knockaert for the goal of the round. It was Arter’s first goal since November 2017 and booked Fulham a spot in the fourth round for the first time since 2016/17.
5. Aston Villa’s torrid away record continues
There were worries about Villa’s goalkeeping situation heading into Saturday’s game following the injury to Tom Heaton. Like Wesley the Englishman is out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury picked up against Burnley.
This left Orjan Nyland and Lovre Kalinic as Villa’s two options, with the Midlands club being linked with Burnley goalkeeper Joe Hart as a potential replacement with experience.
Full-time at Craven Cottage.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) January 4, 2020
But they may need more than just experience to turn things around defensively. The 2-1 defeat against Fulham at Craven Cottage was Villa’s 14th away from home in total this season and they haven’t been happy travels.
Villa have now lost nine of those games, conceding 27 goals and kept no clean sheets. Even League Two side Crewe Alexander found the net in a 6-1 thrashing in the Carabao Cup second round.
You cannot blame Nyland for the two goals he conceded against Fulham as they were both wonderstrikes from outside the area but it did add to the question of whether Villa do need a new face at the back.