My overriding emotion on leaving Upton Park yesterday afternoon was one of absolute disappointment. A win would have sent us rocketing up the table, with plenty of breathing space between us and the relegation zone. As it was, a heavily deflected equaliser moved us out of the bottom three and, if this game – even so early in the season – was a ‘must not lose,’ the Hull home game after the international break becomes a ‘must win’.
But pondering it all over a few post-match pints, I reflected on just how rarely we manage to get something at West Ham. We’ve won twice there in the last eight years – the league victory came in our first season back in the top flight and the second seuccess was in an FA Cup replay that the home side had initially dominated. What’s more with West Ham dominant after scoring, and Kagisho Dikgacoi sent off, there seemed more chance of the Hammers adding to their tally than Fulham forcing a way back into the contest at half-time.
Hodgson sprung a major surprise by leaving Bobby Zamora out of the squad altogether. I haven’t seen any word on an injury, but if Bobby wasn’t injured, this was the resolution to the post-Basle debate that I wasn’t expecting. I felt Zamora’s direct replacement Diomansy Kamara was Fulham’s standout performer, always full of running, and hassling the West Ham defence. It was his surging run that persuaded Matthew Upson that his best option was to haul down Kamara on the right hand side of the box and swiftly changed the momentum of the game.
Fulham hadn’t actually started badly – intent on taking the game to West Ham, who had yet to even earn a point at Upton Park this season. Zoltan Gera certainly doesn’t seem frightened to shoot after his wondergoal at Manchester City and he had a couple of earlier sighters. The Whites looked fairly comfortable on the ball and, before his sending off, Dikgacoi looked quite promising, in that he seemed a little more reliable on the ball than Etuhu and strong in the challenge.
As so often happens, a bright start was followed by the soft concession of a goal. Hangeland felt it was necessary to send Julian Faubert sprawling to the ground as he surged away down the West Ham right and Carlton Cole got away from Paul Konchesky and Hangeland to meet Alessandro Diamanti’s free-kick. Schwarzer had little chance and suddenly Fulham faced an uphill battle. It might have been worse had James Tomkins made the most of being afforded a free header at the back post, but the young centre-back’s header went wide.
Fulham were struggling to make much of an impression on the West Ham midfield now, but Andy Johnson spurned the best chance of the first half for the visitors when, having been founded by a clever Danny Murphy pass, he inexplicably shot wide. When Dikgacoi was sent off for putting his hands in Scott Parker’s face, you got the sense it just wasn’t likely to be Fulham’s day.
Indeed, Hodgson must have felt fortunate to get his players in at half time still only a goal down. Both Diamanti and Luis Jimenez went close from long range and some nervy defending almost handed Cole a second. Hodgson, having shifted Johnson from up front to right midfield for the remainder of the first period, replaced him with Chris Baird, who had an excellent half as a holding midfielder, and switched to one up front.
It had an almost immediate effect as Upson madly hauled down Kamara. Murphy, so reliable from the spot, levelled matters and you sensed the belief coursing through Fulham. Robert Green did brilliantly to push Paul Konchesky’s free-kick aside for a corner, but the reprieve was only shortlived. Green erred in trying to come and claim Konchesky’s flag-kick as Hangeland tried to make a nuisance of himself and Gera shot past a despairing Mark Noble on the line.
Fulham then went into containing mode for the remainder of the second period. Pressure and shots rained in on the Fulham goal, but it is hard to recall Schwarzer having to make a save. A minute and a half into four minutes of injury time, with the away end bouncing, he was beaten. Substitute Junior Stanilas looked to have decided against shooting when he passed the ball wide, but on receiving it again from Herita Illunga, he tried his luck. The shot took a hefty deflection of Aaron Hughes, who had been outstanding as usual, and looped over the stranded Schwarzer.
Fulham still had a chance to win in at the very end, but Eddie Johnson couldn’t profit after charging down Green’s clearance, and with Upson hurriedly narrowing the angle, shot disappointing wide. The point lifts us out of the danger zone on goal difference and there was plenty of character to laud in that performance.
WEST HAM UNITED (4-5-1): Green; Faubert, Illunga, Upson, Tomkins; Parker (Behrami 72), Noble, Jimenez, Diamanti, Hines (Stanislas 72); Cole. Subs (not used): Kurucz, Spector, Da Costa, Nouble, Payne.
BOOKED: Parker, Jimenez, Faubert.
GOALS: Cole (16), Stanislas (90).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Dikgacoi, Murphy, Gera, Dempsey (Riise 84); Kamara (E. Johnson 81), A. Johnson (Baird 45). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Greening, Nevland.
BOOKED: Hangeland, Kamara.
GOALS: Murphy (pen 47), Gera (57).
REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent)