A flat Fulham side were beaten by Paolo di Canio’s late penalty at Loftus Road this evening as West Ham won their third away game in a row.

A dour London derby was enlivened right at the death when Zat Knight’s desperate lunge sent Jermaine Defoe flying – with Rob Styles pointing to the spot and showing the Fulham defender a red card. Di Canio confidently converted the spot-kick and secured another precious three points for the Hammers, which helped lift Glenn Roeder’s side to fourteenth in the table.

The visitors were by the far the more adventurous of the two sides and could easily have been well ahead in the first five minutes of the contest. Defoe thought he had given West Ham the perfect start but his celebrations after latching on to a lovely through ball from Joe Cole and firing home were cut short by an offside flag. Fulham were fitful in response, rarely threatening David James, who kept a clean sheet on his 500th professional appearance.

Di Canio should have put the Hammers ahead midway through the first half when he benefited from a mistake from Knight after Defoe had mesmorised Andy Melville. But the mercurial forward miskicked from ten yards out with the goal gaping, much to the delight of the Fulham fans. He then turned provider for Trevor Sinclair on the QPR winger’s old stomping ground, but Edwin van der Sar was equal to a venomous volley.

The talented Cole then took centre stage with a wonderful individual run that took him away from three Fulham defenders only to shoot straight at Edwin van der Sar. The only question as the two sides headed in for half-time was how Fulham were still level, given how many good chances West Ham had created. Jean Tigana’s side did improve in the second half but they still struggled to carve out good openings with Steve Marlet seeing a shot blocked by Ian Pearce before the Frenchman curled one just wide after a lovely link-up between Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque.

Tigana sent out the lesser seen Latvian midfielder Andrejs Stolcers who almost laid on a goal for Barry Hayles, but the Jamaican international’s predatory finish was chalked off for offside. It looked as if a forgettable contest would end all square until Defoe found some space in the box and was sent sprawling by Knight’s ill-judged intervention. Di Canio was coolness personified from twelve yards to inflict Fulham’s first defeat in Shepherd’s Bush and prevent the Cottagers from climbing into fourth place above Manchester United.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Wome, Melville, Goma; Legwinski, Inamoto (Djetou 45), Malbranque, Boa Morte (Stolcers 78); Marlet, Hayles. Subs (not used): Taylor, Ouaddoh, Collins.

BOOKED: Boa Morte, Marlet.

SENT OFF: Knight.

WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): James; Dailly, Minto, Pearce, Repka; Cisse, Carrick, Sinclair, J. Cole; di Canio, Defoe. Subs (not used): van der Gouw, Breen, Winterburn, Camara, Garcia.

BOOKED: Repka, Dailly, Cisse.

GOAL: di Canio (pen 90).

REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hampshire).