Match report: Fulham 2-0 Villa - Sidwell/Berbatov see off visitors
Villa's five-match unbeaten run ground to a halt at Craven Cottage, where they slipped to defeat at the hands of struggling Fulham.
Paul Lambert's side, minus the injured Ron Vlaar and Antonio Luna, were out of sorts on the banks of the Thames as they went down to a Fulham side who had previously suffered six straight defeats.
The outcome was effectively decided inside the opening half hour.
Former Villa man Steve Sidwell opened the scoring on 21 minutes, with Dimitar Berbatov doubling the lead from the penalty spot.
Villa had few clear-cut chances, their best effort coming from Christian Benteke, whose stoppage-time shot from the edge of the penalty area was brilliantly tipped over by keeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
There were also strong claims for a penalty when Gabby Agbonlahor, captain in the absence of Vlaar, was brought down.
But it was generally an afternoon to forget.
After some scrappy early exchanges, Brad Guzan came to Villa's rescue with a superb eighth-minute save.
The home side won a corner when Ashkan Dejagah's angled dive went behind off Nathan Baker, and when Giorgos Karagounis delivered the flag kick from the right, Berbatov's header was destined for the top corner until the keeper stretched to tip it on to the bar.
The visitors' first attempt saw Baker head well over following Ashley Westwood's deep free-kick.
But a flowing 12th minute almost brought an early breakthrough.
Benteke laid the ball off to Fabian Delph, whose lofted pass picked out Agbonalhor on the left. The striker's cross was met by Benteke, who sent a header wide of the left-hand post.
Delph then set up Benteke for a fierce drive which Stekelenburg pushed away as the keeper dived to his left, although Villa were being kept busy at the back, with Baker and then Ciaran Clark blocking goalbound efforts from Alexander Kacaniklic in the space of 60 seconds.
And in the 21st minute Fulham were in front, Berbatov and Dejagah combining to set up Sidwell, who clipped left-footed past Guzan as Leandro Bacuna moved in to challenge.
It got worse for Bacuna nine minutes later, the full-back being adjudged to have brought down down Kacaniklic as he raced into the penalty area following Berbatov's defence-splitting pass.
Berbatov cleverly tricked Guzan into diving to his left before rolling a low shot into the other corner.
Delph, having picked up a booking for a foul on Dejagah, was working as tirelessly as ever, and the midfielder sent a cross-shot just beyond the far post following Benteke's neat flick.
Even so, the Cottagers were close again on 37 minutes, Sidwell's deft pass setting up Berbatov for a shot which Guzan turned behind.
Two minutes before the interval, Villa were awarded a free-kick a couple of yards outside the area but Bacuna was unable to reproduce his superb strikes against Manchester City and Cardiff City, sending his shot just over the bar.
Chris Herd, playing his first game of the season, did well to get the ball away for a corner after John Arne Riise drove towards goal just after the interval, while Guzan held on to a firm header from Philippe Senderos.
The Swiss defender's next contribution denied Villa a chance to reduce the deficit, Senderos getting in front of Benteke to clear Bacuna's cross for a corner at the near post.
Karagounis was proving to be a handful, however, and just short of the hour mark the Greek midfielder wasn't far off target with a swerving shot from 25 yards.
There was an even bigger scare on 65 minutes when Guzan misjudged the flight of a Karagounis centre, allowing Riise to get in a header which struck the foot of a post.
The keeper then saved Dejagah's hard low shot at the second attempt before Villa responded with a fine cross from sub Aleks Tonev. Unfortunately Benteke was unable to capitalise, and in the scramble which followed Andi Weimann's shot was blocked.
Six minutes from the end, acting captain Agbonlahor was adamant Villa should have been awarded a penalty when he appeared to be tripped just inside the area by former Villa defender Aaron Hughes, but his appeal was ignored by referee Mike Dean.
Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Hughes, Senderos, Riise; Parker; Dejagah, Karagounis (Kasami 72), Sidwell, Kacaniklic (Duff 77); Berbatov. Unused subs: Stockdale, Ruiz, Richardson, Zverotic, Christensen.
Villa: Guzan; Bacuna, Herd (Lowton 81), Clark, Baker; El Ahmadi (Tonev HT), Westwood, Delph; Weimann (Albrighton 81), Benteke, Agbonlahor. Unused subs: Steer, Helenius, Sylla, Bowery.