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Hugo revives Fulham’s bid to beat relegation Cardiff in trouble

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom, April 5, (AFP): Fulham breathed new life into their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League as Hugo Rodallega’s late strike sealed a crucial 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Saturday. Felix Magath’s team began the day bottom of the table, but they moved up to 18th place thanks to Colombia striker Rodallega’s winner with four minutes remaining at Villa Park. Kieran Richardson had put Fulham ahead just after the hour before Grant Holt equalised with his first goal for Villa nine minutes later. Although Fulham remain five points from safety, the result will give them renewed hope that a great escape is possible. Christian Benteke’s Achilles tear in training this week was a huge blow for Villa, who lacked a cutting edge without the powerful Belgium striker.

Magath, who gave a second debut to Mahamadou Diarra following his return to the club, was forced to play down speculation this week that his job was in danger after only one win in his first six games. His side had the first effort on goal, though, as Cauley Woodrow headed over Pajtim Kasami’s cross with two minutes gone. Woodrow was heavily involved and Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan had to be alert when his shot was deflected, while Lewis Holtby and Steve Sidwell also tried their luck as the visitors ended the half strongly. Magath was clearly not happy with what he had seen, though, and he made a double substitution for the second half, with Rodallega replacing Woodrow and Ashkan Dejagah coming on for Kasami.

Villa were inches away from taking the lead as Holt chested the ball into the path of Bacuna, who slammed a shot against the near post via the fingers of Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale. But it was the visitors who made the breakthrough in the 61st minute as Dejagah cut in from the right and teed up Richardson for a thunderous strike. Fulham’s lead lasted only nine minutes, with Holt’s header from Marc Albrighton’s corner finding its way through a crowd of players and into the bottom corner. A clever dummy from Dejagah looked to have set up Holtby for a certain goal as he took the ball around Guzan but, from four yards out, his shot was somehow cleared off the line by Matthew Lowton. It was an astonishing piece of defending and, not surprisingly, left Holtby with head in hands. But the final twist came at the other end in the 86th minute as Holtby’s cross was flicked into the bottom corner by Rodallega to snatch the points.

Palace 3, Cardiff 0
In Cardiff, United Kingdom, Crystal Palace followed up last weekend’s defeat of title-chasing Chelsea with a 3-0 win at Cardiff that compounded the struggling Welsh club’s relegation woes. While Palace pulled seven points clear of the drop zone, this loss in front of their home fans left Cardiff deep in trouble. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side slid down a place into second from bottom, six points from safety with only five games left to save their top flight status and avoid a quick return to the Championship. Jason Puncheon scored a double in either half with Cardiff old boy Joe Ledley, who played for Cardiff in the 2008 FA Cup final, also getting on the scoresheet. This was a big match for both clubs in their respective bids to stay in the Premier League.

But Cardiff struggled to contain the more cohesive Palace, the visitors unlucky not to go into an early lead when slack marking left South Africa midfielder Kagisho Dikg alone in the penalty area only for his shot to fly over the crossbar. Palace took the lead on 31 minutes when Puncheon’s shot flew through the massed area past Cardiff keeper David Marshall and into the bottom corner. More poor defending led to Palace’s second goal on 71 minutes, with Morocco’s Marouane Chamakh, back after one month out with a hamstring injury, rising alone to meet a free kick. His effort was kept out by Marshall but he was unable to stop Ledley stabbing in the rebound against his former club. Despite his part in their downfall the home fans gave Ledley a warm reception when he went off injured shortly after. Puncheon produced a great second goal two minutes from time, the former Southampton winger curling a 25 yard shot into the top corner.

Hull 1, Swansea 0
In Kingston Upon Hull, United Kingdom, Hull eased their fears of relegation from the Premier League as George Boyd’s header earned a 1-0 home win against Swansea. Steve Bruce’s team moved nine points clear of the bottom three after Boyd bagged the winner in the first half at the KC Stadium. The Tigers will play in their first FA Cup semi-final since 1930 when they take on Sheffield United at Wembley next weekend and will do so with their top-flight status almost certainly assured. With five league games remaining it therefore appears unlikely Hull will be caught, even if they do have a tough run-in that includes matches against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton. Swansea are six points above the bottom three and can’t be certain of survival just yet after their 11th successive away league game without a win.

With Wembley in mind, Bruce exercised caution in his team selection, resting key midfielder Tom Huddlestone due to a slight back strain. Alex Bruce also missed out with Boyd and Maynor Figueroa slotting into a switched 4-4-2 formation. The hosts were quickly into their stride and Shane Long ran on to Figueroa’s perfectly-weighted cross to the back post, only for Michel Vorm to turn his side-footed volley wide. Hull had most of the initial possession but Swansea were a threat on the break and Jonathan De Guzman should have at least tested home goalkeeper Steve Harper when released on goal.

WBA 1, Norwich 0
In London, Morgan Amalfitano scored the only goal of the game as West Bromwich Albion won 1-0 away to Norwich City to move five points clear of the Premier League relegation zone. The Baggies arrived at Carrow Road following the controversial fall-out from last week’s 3-3 draw with Cardiff, amid reports that James Morrison had punched team-mate Saido Berahino in the dressing room in the Welsh capital after that match. Berahino was left on the bench and Morrison started in midfield as West Brom’s Spanish manager Pepe Mel looked to guide the Midlands club to a much-needed victory. But it was France winger Amalfitano who had the final say as Norwich, who twice hit the woodwork, suffered their second successive defeat ahead of testing fixtures against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Norwich’s Johan Elmander had a chance to open the scoring in the 12th minute but shot way over the crossbar. And it proved a particularly costly miss, when Amalfitano scored the lone goal of the match four minutes later. Receiving the ball some 40 yards from the Norwich goal, former Marseille star Amalfitano skipped past Martin Olsson after the Canaries’ left-back slipped and beat John Ruddy with a shot into the far corner that gave the England goalkeeper no chance. It was nearly 2-0 when Jonas Olsson just failed to get on the end of a free-kick at the far post. Ruddy then blocked Matej Vydra’s close-range effort to keep the home side in the match.

West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster, also an England international, then produced a superb save to tip away Elmander’s glancing header minutes before half-time. Norwich striker Gary Hooper, the former Celtic forward, almost drew the Canaries level in the 57th minute only for his angled shot to hit the woodwork. And Foster had to react smartly to turn Robert Snodgrass’s 25-yard free-kick onto the crossbar. Berahino came on in the 71st minute for Vydra and soon afterwards dragged a shot wide. Norwich manager Chris Hughton then sent on both Luciano Becchio and then Jonas Gutierrez as his side went in search of an equaliser. But it was Berahino who then came closest to scoring, with his stoppage-time shot saved by Ruddy at his near post. The result saw the Baggies go above Norwich on goal difference, with the Canaries looking anxiously over their shoulder heading into the final five games of the season.

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