Freddie Kanoute’s header on the stroke of half time was enough to earn West Ham a hard-fought victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage this afternoon and lift the Hammers to eighth in the Premiership table.

The French striker pounced on the stroke of half time to score his tenth league goal of the campaign after a slick move that saw Trevor Sinclair work a clever one-two with Steve Lomas and float a cross to the far post. Kanoute rose majestically to power his header past Edwin van der Sar and, despite fashioning a number of chances, Fulham were unable to respond as they stretched their miserable run of form to one win in twelve league fixtures.

“We decided to come here and be dogged because that is what you’ve got to do when you play away in the Premiership,” said West Ham manager Glenn Roeder afterwards. As far as I’m concerned it was a good professional performance. We needed to keep it tight at the back and in midfield because we’ve got enough creative players in the side who can nick a goal.”

The visitors needed that defensive resolution in the early stages as Fulham began brightly. David James used his feet to deny Barry Hayles in the seventh minute before Sylvain Legwinski somehow scooped the rebound over the bar from eight yards. West Ham were forced into a reorganisation when Vladimir Labant’s return at left back lasted only half of the first period and they were almost breached when Louis Saha’s low cross almost found Steed Malbranque sliding in ahead of a static defence.

Sean Davis twice tried his luck from distance but his shots proved wayward. The energetic midfielder managed to subdue most of West Ham’s attacks with van der Sar only extended by Paolo di Canio just three minutes before the break. The Italian’s powerpuff effort brought ironic cheers from the Craven Cottage faithful, although the travelling fans celebrated with gusto when their side took the lead from their very next attack. Kanoute climbed above Brevett at the back post after that industrious run from Sinclair saw space open up.

Fulham were frustrated for much of the second half as well. Malbranque probably came the closest to a leveller four minutes after the break when his fine free-kick whistled just over the crossbar before Jean Tigana introduced Luis Boa Morte and Steve Marlet from the bench. Roeder responded by withdrawing di Canio for John Moncur to stiffen up the Hammers’ midfield – and although the move proved vital to protecting their lead, it wasn’t popular with the away support or the mercurial Italian, who trudged despondently around the pitch to watch the rest of the game from the tunnel.

West Ham might have made the closing twenty minutes easier had Christian Dailly not headed wide from Joe Corner’s deep corner when it appeared easier to find the net. Cole, whose flicks and tricks in central midfield had posed Fulham problems all afternoon, also had the opportunity to add a second when he embarked on a brilliant run into the box but he blazed over after beating two home defenders.

Fulham substitute Jon Harley almost an immediate impact but his header was brilliantly turned aside by James after excellent play from right back Steve Finnan. With the Whites throwing numbers forward, Alain Goma’s superb tackle prevented Cole from wrapping up the points when the England international looked poised to score after latching onto an inventive through ball from Moncur. The home side kept battling until the end and van der Sar almost conjured up an equaliser in the last minute of added time but his header from Malbranque’s corner flew fractionally wide.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Collins (Boa Morte 59), Davis (Harley 79), Malbranque, Legwinski; Saha (Marlet 59), Hayles. Subs (not used): Taylor, Knight.

BOOKED: Finnan.

WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): James; Schemmel, Labont (Pearce 23), Dailly, Repka; Carrick, J. Cole, Lomas, Sinclair; di Canio (Moncur 66), Kanoute (Defoe 84). Subs (not used): Hislop, Courtois.

BOOKED: Dailly.

GOAL: Kanoute (45).

REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).