Arter's first takes Fulham into next round of FA Cup at Aston Villa's expense
Fulham 2 Aston Villa 1
Two stunning left-foot strikes set Fulham on their way to an excellent FA Cup win over top-flight Villa – the winner from Harry Arter coming just moments after he entered the fray.
It was the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder’s first goal for the club in his first game since the October defeat to Stoke City.
Having only had a tally of two yellows and a red so far, it was a welcome change of fortune for the 30-year-old, who has endured a fitful start to his Fulham career.
There looked to be little on when he collected possession 25 yards out in the 74th minute, but lack of options forced his hand and he wrapped his foot around the ball to find the top corner.
If that was spectacular, Fulham’s first from Anthony Knockaert in the 54th minute was no less eye-catching. It followed a fine break out of defence from Joe Bryan and a quick pass out to the right to the winger.
Knockaert saw the possibility, cutting inside across the edge of the area before unfurling a beautiful shot beyond keeper Orjan Nyland.
The drama of the second half was hard to anticipate after an insipid opening 45 minutes which was a far cry from the teams’ last encounter – the play-off final of two seasons ago at Wembley.
It also seemed a long way off being the sort of blood-and-thunder FA Cup tie you might anticipate when a Premier League side has to visit a club from lower down.
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has a League Cup semi-final and top-flight flight survival to negotiate and he rested a raft of the usual starters in readiness for those challenges.
Scott Parker too demonstrated that his interest can only go so far when the big pressure this season is to finish in the top six at least in pursuit of a return to the Promised Land.
Resting Aleksandar Mitrovic made perfect sense given the workload already undertaken by the Serb this season, but of course it was also a signal of the lesser priority the FA Cup has become. Tom Cairney was also missing.
If anything, the New Year’s Day loss to Reading has ratcheted up the desperation to channel resources into that league campaign.
There is no like-for-like when it comes to number nines at Fulham, so Ivan Cavaleiro was played through the middle, but it does not feel like his natural position. As part of the shake-up, Whites fans got a first proper sighting of Michael Hector in defence – the signing from Chelsea making his much-anticipated debut.
The first half was sprinkled with a few half-chances. Jota fired just wide for Villa, who had the best chance just before the interval when Kodjia wiggled past Alfie Mawson and slipped the ball in for an unmarked Anwar El Ghazi. It needed an excellent save from Marek Rodak to stop the Dutchman’s low shot from finding the net.
Knockaert raised the temperature after the restart with a dart in from the right and bullet drive across the face of goal. Not long after, he broke the deadlock.
Soon after, Bryan had a shot palmed away by Nyland and Cyrus Christie almost scored – his first saved shot rebounding goalwards as it cannoned back off his face.
On 63 minutes, Villa drew level – Kodjia lofting a fine angled ball from Jota over the advancing Rodak and El Ghazi applying the finishing touch from no distance.
Hector, who looked a little nervous and hit some wayward passes, was too easily beaten by Kodjia for the goal but luckily for him, it was not a fatal error – thanks to Arter’s crowning moment.
Line-up: Rodak - Hector, Mawson, Odoi – Christie, Johansen, McDonald (Arter 72) – Knockaert, Onomah (Stansfield 81), Bryan – Cavaleiro (De La Torre 84). Subs not used: Bettinelli, O’Riley, Harris, Jasper.