Carlton Cole’s first ever Premier League double breathed new life into West Ham’s survival bid as they came from behind to inflict a damaging defeat on Fulham. Cole scored twice to secure the Hammers’ first away victory since August and Avram Grant can begin to plot a way to Premier League safety.
There might be a long way to go but the Israeli coach was entitled to smile after the Irons’ recovered from a slow start to record an encouraging victory. “I hope this is the turning point,” he said. “At West Ham we have a tradition for good football. We can’t play ugly football but the target now just has to be the points. To win our first away game will give us a real boost. The players have always believed in the football they were playing but we didn’t win many games.”
Cole, who had scored his only previous Premier League goal back in October, has now scored five goals in his last five starts against Fulham. The home defence might have been generous in offering some belated Christmas presents but both Cole and Freddie Piquionne were outstanding up front. As well as being predatory in the penalty area, he was the perfect foil for the Hammers up top.
West Ham headed into the early kick off at Craven Cottage with just a single win in twelve league games. The early going showed exactly why. Grant’s men began brightly but quickly found themselves beyond. Rob Green punched a Davies corner clear but the Welsh winger was afforded the chance to swing in a second cross and Fulham were queuing up in the middle, with Aaron Hughes nipping in front of Andy Johnson to head home his first goal for the club in his 153rd appearance.
Fulham followed that with some of the most fluent football that they have played under Mark Hughes, with some glorious one-touch stuff leaving their visitors chasing shadows. But some shocking defensive errors undermined their ambitious approach play. Dickson Etuhu made a dreadful miss of clearing a cross from Sears and Cole confidently converted when the ball fell nicely for him. Although Mark Schwarzer saved from the young striker shortly afterwards, the Hammers went in front in first half stoppage time when Scott Parker’s short corner was headed home by Piquionne from eight yards out.
Hughes took off Clint Dempsey seven minutes after the interval – and was immediately greeted with resounding cries of ‘You don’t what you’re doing!’ Andy Johnson fluffed a great chance to equalise when he was sent clean through on goal by a searching Hangeland through ball but Fulham were far too easily undone by route one football seven minutes later. Danny Gabbidon launched a hopeful ball forward, Aaron Hughes left his backheader far too short and Cole lashed home a left-footed half-volley.
Green made an excellent save from Eddie Johnson to crucially preserve West Ham’s two-goal cushion almost immediately and Mark Hughes must now be wondering whether he will soon find himself seeking the sort of support from the boardroom that Grant has thrived upon. There’s no doubt that the Whites are in a relegation scrap of their own.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Salcido, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu (E. Johnson 53), Murphy, Davies, Gera; Dempsey (Duff 53); A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Baird, Halliche, Greening, Kamara.
GOAL: Hughes (11).
WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): Green; Ben-Haim, Gabbison, Tomkins, Upson; Parker, Kovac, Sears, Stanilas; Cole, Piquionne (Nouble 89). Subs (not used): Boffin, Reid, Spector, Ilunga, Barreira, Obinna.
GOALS: Cole (37, 73), Picquionne (45+1).
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).