Aston Villa 0 Fulham 0

Frustration was again the name of the game as Aston Villa maintained their season of under-achievement in front of their own fans.

Let's face it, when you can't beat the team with the worst away record in the Premiership, you know you've got problems. While keeping a clean sheet at least ended a nightmare run of three straight defeats, it was still an afternoon that left the home fans split.

Fulham's well-chronicled travel sickness found a temporary cure, with only their fourth away point of the season. But this was more a story about the continued failings of injury-hit Villa.

Not that a small, disenchanted section of home fans appeared to allow the loss of Olof Mellberg, Milan Baros, James Milner, Martin Laursen, Mark Delaney, Patrik Berger and Jlloyd Samuel as an excuse. Villa's thin squad was shorn of its usual crop of absentees, and manager David O'Leary remains hamstrung by the impasse at boardroom level.

But, for one influential pocket of Villa fans, it is no longer the fashion to abuse Doug Ellis. Instead, with the chairman biding his time until what he hopes is imminent retirement, they have found a new target on whom to vent their anger.

O'Leary's past habit of too often blaming injuries and lack of funds in the transfer market and too seldom offering the fans real passion and hope has turned a proportion of Villa fans against him.

But the key issue is exactly how many have lost faith.

Villa's home form this season has been, as Lee Hendrie puts it "pretty dismal". Just four wins now in 15 games. And O'Leary is shouldering the blame.

Before the start, a vivid orange banner had been unfurled from the upper tier of the Holte End, proclaiming: 'We're not fickle. We just don't like you'.

It was a response to O'Leary's reference to the fans who booed his team off at half-time when they trailed 3-1 at Wycombe in September, then cheered at the end after Villa had turned it round to win 8-3.

"There is a genuine bunch of fans," O'Leary had said that night. "But there is also a fickle mob who get on your back very quickly."

Those 'fickle' fans had protested last week at Goodison Park. And, after unfurling a second banner at half-time that read simply 'O'Leary out', they again made their feelings known in that way after the break. Yet it did not take long for their chants to be drowned out by a louder, far more supportive rendition of 'David O'Leary's Claret and Blue Army'.

And there, in a nutshell, is what's wrong at Villa Park.

Villa are a divided club, divided between the realists waiting patiently for the good times to one day return when Ellis has finally sold up and the dreamers who think they have a divine right to be up there contesting with the big boys.

Fear was the key word on Saturday. Where at times this season they have been able to show some fluidity, most recently up at Ewood Park a fortnight ago, confidence looked shot to pieces.

Still, there was much to admire about the way young Liam Ridgewell and Aaron Hughes handled things at the back, while stand-in skipper Gareth Barry and Gavin McCann were nearer their best than they had been at Goodison Park. And up front, Luke Moore was full of running.

But there was far too little attacking threat. The recalled Hendrie was unlucky when he guided an angled volley on to the top of the net. And, from Kevin Phillips' long floated pass, Moore's quick turn earned the space to flash a left-foot shot just wide.

Then, in an astonishing scramble created by Hendrie's long ball and Moore's flick, Villa should have scored. McCann was three times denied, his first effort saved by Mark Crossley, his second scuffed embarrass-ingly and his third blocked by Zat Knight. Moritz Volz then blocked the final shot from Barry, and Crossley had to make another save from his own man Knight from the resulting corner.

Phillips and McCann were both denied in another melee. And Villa were unlucky not to be ahead at the break.

Fulham had been limited to Collins John's shot and two Thomas Sorensen saves to thwart Luis Boa Morte's near-post cross and Steed Malbranque's low shot.

But it was a different story after the break.

Villa did go close when Steven Davis arrived at the near post to connect with Wilfred Bouma's low cross and force Crossley into a reflex save. And then Juan Pablo Angel almost combined with fellow substitute

Gabriel Agbonlahor, only for Liam Rosenior to block his goalbound header.

But Fulham had become the greater threat, largely through the free-roving Malbranque. And Sorensen was forced into four key saves, perhaps the most alert of which was to pounce on a loose, late headed back-pass from Ulises de la Cruz.

Had one of those efforts gone in, the mood might have turned ugly.