Steve Sidwell put the home side in front in the 21st minute when he scored against his old side after lofting the ball over the advancing Brad Guzan.

Fulham, who previously hadn't scored two goals at home all season, then doubled their lead through a controversial penalty nine minutes later.

Alex Kacaniklic broke clear and charged into the box where he appeared to make the initial contact with Villa's Leandro Bacuna.

But the referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty and Dimitar Berbatov, after selling Guzan a dummy, rolled the ball into the bottom corner.

Victory saw Fulham, beaten 2-1 by Tottenham in Meuelensteen's first game in charge on Wedenesday after he succeeded fellow Dutchman Martin Jol, climb one place into 18th spot but remain in the relegation zone.

However, their tally of 13 points 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.

Sidwell said Fulham were responding well to the influence of Meulensteen, who oversaw the midweek 2-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur.

"We've tried different formations since he's took charge," he told Sky Sports.

"There's versatility in the squad, we all put in a shift and hopefully it's working now."

Meanwhile Fulham captain Scott Parker praised the work of Berbatov, who had a hand in both goals.

Berbatov has been linked with a move away from Craven Cottage but Parker made it clear his team-mates wanted the "exceptional" former Manchester United striker to stay with west London side Fulham.

"We all know the quality he has," Parker said. "He was exceptional again today (Sunday) and was on Wednesday."

Asked about the importance of the result, Parker replied: "Massive. We all knew how important today was, we put in a shift and got the three points."

Bottom-of-the-table Sunderland are now five points adrift at the foot of the table.

Premier League leaders Arsenal will go seven points clear at the summit if they beat Everton -- fresh from a win over Manchester United -- at the Emirates Stadium in Sunday's other top-flight fixture.

Villa's defeat means 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.