Bullard fires Fulham to first victory under Hodgson

Fulham earned their first win under Roy Hodgson with their 2-1 victory over Aston Villa.

Jimmy Bullard slammed home a free-kick four minutes from time to sink Aston Villa 2-1 and crown his recent return from a career-threatening knee injury.

The 28-year-old spent 16 months on the treatment table wondering if he would ever be able to play to the same standard again and Hodgson could not hide his admiration for the way he has fought back to full fitness.

Bullard's goal helped relegation-haunted Fulham to close the gap on Birmingham and also erased the bad taste left from a training ground fight with team-mate Chris Baird on Thursday.

Hodgson said: "Full credit to Jimmy for taking the free-kick so well and scoring such a great goal. It was a goal that was worthy of the victory.

"We have to give Jimmy Bullard and Brian McBride enormous amount of credit and take our hats off to them.

"Both had injuries that lesser players might have looked at and thought 'this is going to take such a long time to come back from have I got the enthusiasm and strength of character to come back again and play at the highest

level?'

"Both of them set their stalls out to do that and both succeeded very well. Jimmy played very well and he likes to be in that attacking midfield role.

"I think we can get more out of him in the offensive side of the game. I think he has got goals in him and he can set them up."

Hodgson was delighted with the effort and the manner of the victory - especially after they fell behind to an own goal from captain Aaron Hughes in the 68th minute.

Four minutes later Bullard's pass gave Simon Davies to the chance to level and then Bullard fired the winner.

Hodgson added: "It is the first step on the road to recovery. I am very pleased.

"We get ourselves slightly closer to the other teams now and it is important in the next 13 games that this level of performance is maintained and if anything, improve upon on it.

"I thought the quality of the game surprised me. I thought the intensity and quality of the game throughout was very good.

"We matched them. I don't think there was any stage of the game when we were outplayed as such.

"A game of that intensity and a game as close as that, it is always going to be a great shot, a great finish or a mistake which changes it."

Villa boss Martin O'Neill made no excuses for his side's defeat.

"Overall, I've been delighted with the players but today was an opportunity for us and we didn't do well enough," said O'Neill.

"I just thought we should have played better today. We were playing against a Fulham side that play neat and tidy football but who are lacking in a bit of confidence.

"We had gone eight games unbeaten so our confidence was high. But we didn't play well enough, even when we got in front."

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