For a natural pessimist I travelled up to Aston Villa on the Chiltern Line in hope. We did play well against Everton and, if we could replicate our form of the first hour, we would surely overcome an inconsistent Villa side who had beaten Chelsea at home and next home game lost to Stoke. They were also without their best forward Christian Benteke. The first half was not a great spectacle. In the second half we took an early lead with a wonderful strike from the much improved Kieran Richardson. The lead did not last long as our defensive ineptitude left Holt unmarked to score from a corner. Then followed a passage of play when both team should have scored, with us the most profligate , Matt Lowton clearing off the line when Holtby had the whole goal to aim at. When Rodallega glided in with his head Holtby’s cross on 86 minutes, it was merited. Our keeper Stockdale made some fine and important saves; Holtby and Richardson put in energetic and effective shifts, but my man of the match was Mahomedou Diarra. The ex-Real Madrid man really organised play from his midfield position, shielding the back four and never wasting a pass. His contribution was not readily noticeable but integral to our victory.
On the train home the subject of Fulham’s survival was positively debated. There are still 5 games, 15 points, to go against Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace at home, Spurs and Stoke away . We considered the run-in of our fellow strugglers and ours is much easier. Against this, we have to show a form hitherto not produced and our goal difference is by far the worst. To use a much used word at Fulham – “believe”. Believe in the new confidence, the fusion of support off the pitch and success on it, and the escapologist traditions of Fulham. In 1966 we mounted an escape with 5 straight wins including a 5-2 victory at Villa Park. Against whom was our penultimate game ? Then, as now, Stoke. Believe.