There was more pain for Fulham on the road this afternoon. Cruelly, the Whites rather toyed with our emotions at West Ham today. Roy Hodgson’s side started rather brightly and send spirits soaring in the away end when Simon Davies somehow sent a free-kick into the far corner. Hodgson had asked his players to ‘fight like tigers’ earlier this week as they battled for their Premiership lives and, for the most, Fulham responded. But they conceded a sloppy equaliser just as the home crowd were beginning to get frustrated and were eventually sunk by Anton Ferdinand’s winner.
There was no shortage of heart and desire from the Fulham players but, sadly, it will take a lot more than that to survive at the highest level. Luck wasn’t really with the visitors, either. Just minutes after Carlos Bocanegra’s presence had left Robert Green unsighted at that Davies free-kick, the American departed with a nasty looking cut underneath his eye. On came Aaron Hughes and Fulham had to reorganise at the back.
They looked relatively comfortable at 1-0 with Steven Davis and the ever energetic Moritz Volz throwing themselves into tackles. The West Ham fans were beginning to get a little frustrated with their side’s lack of penetration when Freddie Ljungberg rolled back the years. You would have been forgiven for thinking you were back at Highbury given the way the Swede sprinted away down the right just before the half hour. His cross was perfectly judged, too, offering plenty of encouragement for Dean Ashton to head home his sixth of the season.
The game was almost turned on it’s head a couple of moments later. Matthew Etherington, who was coming more and more into the came, tore down the opposite flank to create an opening and Ashton was only denied by an athletic save from Niemi, who turned his rising drive onto the crossbar. The dynamic of the contest had completely changed now. Niemi had to be at his best to thwart Ashton and Carlton Cole low down before half time.
It was largely one-way traffic after the break too. Dejan Stefanovic gamely blocked a powerful shot from Mark Noble at source but Fulham couldn’t hold out. The breakthrough arrived with twenty minutes to play. The Hammers broke quickly from midfield and Noble’s cross came to Ferdinand, who like a couple of years ago, left Niemi with no chance with a thumping strike from the edge of the box.
The game opened up as Fulham poured forward and the visitors could have rescued a point late on. Danny Murphy’s cross bounced around in the box and Chris Baird contrived to head over the bar from close range. Jimmy Bullard got a warm ovation as he returned to first-team action for the first time in 16 months at the club where he served his apprenticeship but not even the presence of their much-missed playmaker could save Fulham from defeat.
WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): Green; Spector, McCartney, A. Ferdinand, Upson; Mullins, Noble, Ljungberg (Faubert 89), Etherington (Bowyer 83); Ashton, C. Cole (Boa Morte 65). Subs (not used): Wright, Collins.
GOALS: Ashton (28), A. Ferdinand (69).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Baird, Konchesky, Stefanovic, Bocanegra (Hughes 14); Davis, Murphy, Volz (Bullard 77), Davies; Healy (Smertin 78), Dempsey. Subs (not used): Warner, Seol.
GOAL: Davies (8).
REFEREE: Mike Riley (South Yorkshire).