Early Aaron Hughes header canceled out after costly defensive errors
A brace from Carlton Cole, and a Frederic Piquionne strike was enough for the Hammers, as Avram Grant's side came from a goal behind to topple their hosts at the Cottage.
Considering one side propped up the table before the game and the other hovering precariously above the drop zone, only Grant felt the pressure from the club’s owners. Although a lethargic second-half display, which was greeted by a chorus of boos and ‘Hughes out’ by the fans at the end of the game, may now cast Fulham’s managerial position in doubt.
In his program notes, Mark Hughes felt his side have not had much luck in games, which could be the source of their poor league position. But the Welshman cannot bemoan the amount of possession Fulham have at home, as they kept the ball well in the opening half without creating threatening chances.
Goals have been partially the root of West Ham’s problem, just five away all season, and Cole continued their misfiring trend by screwing his side’s first chance narrowly wide after neatly turning Aaron Hughes.
Temperatures which wouldn’t look out of place in the Arctic Circle did little to quash the lively start from both sides. The as-ever-instrumental Danny Murphy pulled the strings in Fulham’s midfield, while Cole, the furthest forward for West Ham held the ball up adequately.
But it was Fulham who broke the deadlock after 11 minutes. A corner which came to nothing fell to Murphy on the edge of the area The midfielder, instead of shooting, sprayed the ball out wide to Simon Davies who was handed too much space to pick out Aaron Hughes in the center, and the defender, who hadn’t scored in over six years for a club, had plenty of time to steer his header past Rob Green.
West Ham’s goalkeeper could do little other than lambaste his defense, who have on several occasions this term and once again at Craven Cottage, displayed a woeful tendency to leave opposition players free in the area.
Fulham, content with their lead, exhibited excellent balance and discipline to keep bodies back at every attacking move to quash any threat of a West Ham counter attack. With Murphy providing the anchor in midfield, Radoslav Kovac and Scott Parker had a difficult job of being the source of any breakaway.
Fulham continued to enjoy long spells of possession without creating too many chances. Andrew Johnson, in only his ninth appearance of the season due to injury, carried the line competently for Mark Hughes’s side, considering his nearest support was Zoltan Gera, who regularly tracked back.
Considering the caliber of West Ham’s attacks, only a mistake from Fulham would allow the visitors to draw level. Dickson Etuhu duly obliged for Hughes side as his lethargic attempt to block a cross only diverted the ball into the path of Cole, who duly poked the ball past Mark Schwarzer and notched his first league goal in 10 games.
Fulham’s first-half capitulation was completed on the stroke of half-time. The hosts were guilty of lapse defending this time round as Pantsil gave Parker too much room to cross and the midfielder duly picked out Piquionne, who was free at the back post courtesy of a wandering Brede Hangeland, and the striker was able to volley home comfortably.
Fulham continued the second half in the same fashion as they finished the first, devoid of any comprehensive chances but plenty of possession.
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The home support quickly grew weary of their side’s display and a misplaced pass from Clint Dempsey prompted Mark Hughes to haul the American off in place of Eddie Johnson to chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ from the crowd. The Welshman’s position has not been in doubt since his appointment in the summer, but as Fulham slide closer to the relegation zone, that may change.
For a side who have leaked goals at a considerable rate this term, West Ham looked assured defensively after the interval. Although Hangeland, due to a lack of attacking options in the wide areas, played a delightful ball which split Tomkins and Upson, but Andrew Johnson was stifled by Green after racing through.
But Fulham’s miserable second half was complete after 73 minutes as another blunder enabled West Ham to score their third. Hughes’s defensive header went completely the wrong way and landed neatly into the path of Cole, who finished clinically past Schwarzer.
The England international has never scored a brace in the league but his fine run against Fulham, six in his last five against the Cottagers, continued, and it was a fitting reward for a display involving a large amount of work rate with little support.
West Ham comfortably saw out the game and the win temporarily lifts Grant’s side off the bottom of the Premier League, while Fulham remain on 16 points and may slip into the drop zone depending on results.
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