Berbatov leads Fulham to key win over Villa
Dimitar Berbatov inspired Fulham to a 2-0 home win over Aston Villa on Sunday that revived the London club's hopes of avoiding relegation from the Premier League.
The Bulgarian forward, linked with a January transfer window move away from Craven Cottage, set up Fulham's opening goal for Steve Sidwell and then scored their second from the penalty spot.
For Fulham, who hadn't previously scored two goals at home all season, victory saw them climb one place into 18th spot but remain in the relegation zone.
Rene Meulensteen's first win as Fulham manager -- and the club's first clean sheet since October 5 -- gave the Cottagers a tally of 13 points.
That left them level with London rivals Crystal Palace and West Ham, the two clubs either side of them in the table, and in the bottom three on goal difference alone.
Villa's defeat -- their first in six league matches -- meant both Swansea and Hull will have the chance to leapfrog them into the top half of the table when they meet at the Liberty Stadium on Monday.
Former Manchester United striker Berbatov was quickly into the action, his eighth minute header tipped on to the bar by Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Villa, however, threatened on the counter-attack and Christian Benteke, who has gone goalless for nine games, headed wide before shooting straight at Fulham goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
But it was Fulham who gave former United assistant boss Meulensteen, appointed in succession to fellow Dutchman Martin Jol as the Cottagers' boss, something to celebrate in the 21st minute.
Berbatov's well-cushioned header fell for Ashkan Dejagah, who in turn sent Sidwell into the box, with the former Villa midfielder clipping the ball into the net.
And nine minutes later Fulham had a somewhat controversial penalty.
Alex Kacaniklic broke clear and charged into the box where he appeared to make the initial contact with Villa's Leandro Bacuna.
But referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty and Berbatov, after selling Guzan a dummy, rolled the ball into the bottom corner.
Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor wasted a good chance at the start of the second half when he failed to hit a square ball coming across him first time.
Philippe Senderos got on the end of a well-worked Fulham corner but his header was saved by Guzan.
Fulham full-back John Arne Riise proved a thorn in the side of Villa's defence with his attacking play and was unlucky when his header from a Giorgos Karagounis cross hit the post.
The home side kept pressing for a third goal but a rare Villa counter-attack six minutes from time saw Dean dismiss the visitors' appeals for a penalty after Agbonlahor went down in the box under a challenge from Aaron Hughes.
And Villa were denied even a consolation goal when, in stoppage time, Benteke's curling shot was tipped over the bar by Stekelenburg.
But there was no denying Fulham, who dominated the second half, their valuable victory.