It was a rather racuous night at the Cottage but Fulham didn’t mind the excitement. Roy Hodgson’s side shrugged off the loss of Andy Johnson and Dickson Etuhu – and the hype over Jimmy Bullard’s return – to comfortably defeat Hull City and move mercifully away from the Premier League relegation zone.
That they did so was largely down to the work of a much-maligned figure. When Bobby Zamora wasn’t even in the squad at West Ham a couple of weeks, it was widely assumed that Hodgson had finally lost patience with his misfiring forward. Not so. Zamora was injured and returned tonight to prove a point. He’s always been full of selfless running and plenty of effort, but he headed a vital opener just as it seemed as though Fulham would struggle to break down an obdurate, but limited Hull side.
A half-time lead was Fulham’s merited reward for their first half endeavours. Diomansy Kamara, so impressive at West Ham, kept his place in the starting line-up after Andy Johnson picked up a groin injury, was a constant menace, buzzing around the Hull defence and nearly provided the first for Zamora on 25 minutes. The ex-West Ham striker ran onto a perfectly weighted through ball from Kamara but only managed to drive over the crossbar.
Damien Duff, returning from a calf injury, was a lively presence on the right flank, regularly cutting inside to cause mischief. He twice tested Boaz Myhill from distance without success, before his venomous strike just before the break led to Fulham’s opening goal. Zamora did brilliantly in the air to find Duff 25 yards out and the Irish international’s strong shot was fisted away by Myhill only for Zamora to react quickest and gleefully head past the grounded goalkeeper.
You can sense the relief around the Cottage and there was an expectation that the second half would be a livelier affair as Phil Brown’s side would have to abandon their previous caution and try and find an equaliser. Hull started the second period well, forcing in a succession of early corners, but couldn’t find the penetration necessary to break Fulham’s defence. Jan Venegoor of Hesslink toiled manfully up front but was largely isolated – something of a surprise given how well Jozy Altidore has taken to English football – but only caused Aaron Hughes minor discomfort by continually nudging him in the back. Their best chance arrived when Stephen Hunt did well to find some space of the edge of the box but shot woefully over.
Bullard eventually made his return to action – his first appearance in a Hull City shirt in the league since his debut was ended early by Scott Parker in January – to a mixture of boos and taunts from an angry home crowd. His introduced only served to enliven Fulham who soon found the crucial second to put the game beyond Hull. Zamora robbed a defender and bustled down the right before calming cutting the ball back across the face of goal, where Kamara had the simplest of finishes from close range.
There could have been further punishment for Phil Brown’s demoralised side had Fulham not missed a few late chances. Clint Dempsey dragged a shot inches wide after a flowing passing move and then missed a glorious chance when he was left all alone at a corner and, after the American had made a nuisance of himself in the box, Zamora miscued a volley straght into the arms of Myhill.
The only sour note was a knee injury to Danny Murphy, sustained when tried to down his man at a throw-in and was crudely blocked off. It was one of many niggly fouls missed or ignored by the generally poor Andre Marriner and must make the Fulham captain a doubt for the visit of AS Roma on Thursday. Chris Baird, stepping in for the injured Dickson Etuhu, had another assured game in central midfield and must be close to staking a claim for a regular starting spot.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy (Greening 60), Duff (Gera 84), Dempsey; Zamora, Kamara (Nevland 87). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Smalling, Riise.
GOALS: Zamora (43), Kamara (64).
HULL CITY (4-5-1): Myhill; McShane, A. Dawson, Kilbane, Sonko; Zayatte, Marney, Geovanni, S. Hunt (Altidore 69), Ghilas (Bullard 58); Venegoor of Hesslink (Mendy 80). Subs (not used): Warner, Mouyokolo, Halmosi, Olafinjana.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (Birmingham).