Bullard could be Fulham's saviour - Hodgson

February 4, 2008

Manager Roy Hodgson insists Jimmy Bullard's goals could help to keep Fulham in the top flight after the fit-again midfielder hit a glorious free-kick winner in the 2-1 victory over Aston Villa yesterday.

Bullard spent 16 months fighting for his career after sustaining knee ligament damage and it was only his fifth match since completing his remarkable return to fitness.

The goal four minutes from time sealed a fantastic fightback by Fulham and earned Hodgson his first win since taking over from the sacked Lawrie Sanchez.

Fulham closed the gap on the teams above them at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League but it also ended an eventful week for Bullard.

The midfielder was left with a bruised and bloodied nose after a training ground spat with team-mate Chris Baird last Thursday but it is Bullard's eye for goal Hodgson is now hoping to exploit in the battle to beat the drop.

Hodgson said: '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 also set them up.

'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 an enormous amount of credit and take our hats off to him and Brian McBride.

'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.'

Hodgson also revealed the training ground clash had been dealt with by the player's committee.

'That was a regrettable incident,' admitted Hodgson. 'I have been very lucky in my career that I have not had many incidents of that type.

'Both players were very upset that they caused me and the rest of the team a problem.

'It didn't take much talking to them and Chris Baird was very quick to apologise and take all the blame for the situation. Luckily Jimmy Bullard showed the maturity to accept the apology and get on with it

'The matter was dealt with by the player's committee. It is an incident I don't wish to see again and the players know that.'

An own goal by Fulham captain Aaron Hughes put Villa ahead in the 68th minute but Simon Davies equalised four minutes later before Bullard stepped up to fire his late winner.

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill was disappointed with his side's performance and confirmed Gabriel Agbonlahor would miss England's match against Switzerland on Wednesday.

The striker injured a hamstring before the end of the first half and although O'Neill is happy for him to link-up with the England squad, he will not be playing.

'I am disappointed for Gabby because he has strained his hamstring,' confirmed O'Neill.

'He will still meet up with the England squad because he has earned that right to go with the big boys but he would not have a prayer of playing on Wednesday.'

On the match he added: 'We should have played better. 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.'