Aston Villa Club Focus – Villa kick off the season with a solid point at Craven Cottage

Villa manager Alex McLeish opened his campaign as manager with a hard-fought draw against Martin Jol’s Fulham at Craven Cottage. The fixture was a game of few chances, but the majority fell for Fulham and McLeish has summer signing Shay Given to thank for keeping his side in the game.

The former Manchester City goalkeeper was drafted into Villa Park after the departure of American goalkeeper Brad Friedel and looks to be one of the most astute signings of the summer. Given’s quality was never in question, even when he was on the substitutes bench at City, and McLeish has instilled faith in Given’s ability to provide a backbone in the Villa backline to allow their attacking talents of Charles N’Zogbia, Mark Albrighton and Darren Bent to flow.

Given himself was delighted to be back in regular football and is looking forward to a long season with the Villans. The Irishman said: “It’s great to be back. I missed playing last season. It’s a tough place to come, Craven Cottage, so I’m happy with the clean sheet.”

McLeish was satisfied with the point and will be pleased with the first half performance that saw Villa hold most of the possession and look solid. Stilyan Petrov’s 30-yard drive flew just over and Villa had a goal chalked off for offside when the dangerous partnership of Emile Heskey and Darren Bent combined to send Bent through. Heskey and Bent looked great in the air against the lofty central defensive partnership of Brede Hangeland and Phillippe Senderos at Fulham.

Problems that the Scotsman faced were the attacking threat. The loss of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing means that someone within the Villa ranks, whether it be N’Zogbia, Albrighton or even Barry Bannan, has to provide the service for Bent. Gabriel Agbonlahor looked lively in patches, but his final ball is not of the quality that Downing and Young provided last season. McLeish may be tempted to dip into the resources from the summer sales and bring in a creative winger that can deliver tempting, teasing balls for Bent to get on the end of.

The Villa fans gave McLeish a rousing reception at Craven Cottage and the former Birmingham City manager was delighted that he seems to have got the fans onside following his switch across the city from blue to claret and blue. McLeish said: “I was very, very pleased to walk across the turf and the Villa fans were very appreciative. I was delighted with it.”

McLeish now prepares his team for their opening home game of the season against Blackburn Rovers. The Villa fans will be out in force to cheer on their side and will be buoyed by their impressive record against Rovers last season, where they beat them 4-1 at home in the league and dumped them out of the FA Cup and League Cup. Villa fans will be content with the start to the season and a good point against Fulham, but will be looking for a more potent goal threat from their attackers as they look to advance up the table.

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