Fulham 2-1 West Ham: Sidwell and Berbatov punish 10-man Hammers

The Bulgarian found the net on 66 minutes to give the Cottagers three vital points and pile further pressure on beleaguered Hammers boss Sam Allardyce.
Dimitar Berbatov was the hero as Fulham claimed a vital 2-1 win against fellow Premier League struggler West Ham at Craven Cottage.

The Cottagers got off to the worst possible start when Mohamed Diame put the visiting side ahead after just seven minutes, but Steve Sidwell's header brought the club level on 32 minutes.

Berbatov struck on 66 minutes to give Fulham a lead it never relinquished and pile further pressure on beleaguered Hammers boss Sam Allardyce.

Kevin Nolan was sent off for his second away match running when he kicked out at Fernando Amorebieta several minutes before halftime in what was miserable start to 2014 for the visitors, but a joyous one for Fulham and striker Berbatov.

The 32-year-old was one of seven changes made from the side mauled 6-0 by Hull City in the Premier League on Saturday, with Adel Taarabt also making a return.

An injury-plagued West Ham came into this contest without a recognized central defender, forcing Allardyce into six changes to the side that drew to West Brom.

Yet Rene Meulensteen's team, which has conceded more goals than any other top-flight side, was guilty of showing its own defensive frailties after just six minutes.

A hopeful route one ball from Jussi Jaaskelainen could only be cleared as far as Diame, who duly slotted home from inside the box.

John Arne Riise nearly leveled things just over 10 minutes later, but his crashing 25-yard drive whistled just past the post.

The home side remained vulnerable at the back and could have been further behind after 23 minutes were it not for a superb save from David Stockdale to keep out a Nolan header at the far post.

But Fulham still managed to create chances, with Berbatov forcing a smart save from Jaaskelainen and Amorebieta having a header cleared off the line.

The home side's pressure paid off just after half an hour, when Sidwell broke free of his man to head home a Damien Duff corner.

And a minute later, the hosts could have been in front when Taarabt rattled the post after some good work from Kieran Richardson.

Things soon got worse for the visitors as Mark Noble limped off with a suspected calf strain, before Nolan was shown a straight red for an off-the-ball kick on Amorebieta just before the break.

The hosts predictably began the second half with a spring in their step, with Riise having the best of an early flurry of chances, racing away down the left before forcing a strong save from Jaaskelainen at the near post.

Taarabt should have given his side the lead after 60 minutes, first forcing Jaaskelainen to tip a glanced header onto the post, before being denied again with the rebound thanks to a terrific save from close range.

Five minutes later, though, and Fulham was ahead after a low Alexander Kacaniklic cross fell fortunately to Berbatov at the far post, and he was left with a simple finish.

Substitute Darren Bent nearly added a third five minutes later, bursting through the defense before being denied by the goalkeeper.

West Ham went close to an equalizer late on, but Stewart Downing's low drive went just wide as Fulham held on for a sixth win of the season, while the visitors are now winless in seven.