By the end of what proved to be a rather tame London derby, the mood of the Fulham faithful matched the miserable wintry weather at a drenched Craven Cottage. Claudio Ranieri’s side had blown their big chance to close the gap at the foot of the Premier League table, surrendering meekly after a bright start as West Ham claimed their fourth successive top flight win for the first time in almost five years.
Ranieri opted for an aggressive 4-4-2 as Fulham hoped to take advantage of beneficial results in the day’s earlier kick-offs to try and breathe some life into their battle against the drop. Aboubakar Kamara, paired with Aleksandar Mitrovic in a two-man attack after scoring in both of Fulham’s past two games, initially posed the Hammers defence serious problems with his physicality and pace. Had he found a finish to match when Mitrovic’s slide-rule pass sent him clean through on goal after nine minutes, it might have been a different story – but Lukasz Fabianski was able to easily palm away the French forward’s near-post effort.
Fulham had already signalled their intent with an early effort from range by Jean-Michael Seri that flew over the bar, but whilst their free-flowing football has created plenty of chances all season they have struggled to keep things tight at the other end. The Whites are still without a clean sheet in the league this campaign and West Ham’s first goal, which arrived against the run of play in the seventeenth minute, offered a clear of example of why. The opening goal actually came from a Fulham attack after Fabian Balbuena halted Mitrovic in his tracks and Denis Odoi needlessly went to ground inside of jockeying Felipe Anderson to the touchline. The Brazilian sauntered to the edge of the box and produced the perfect cut back which Robert Snodgrass leathered past a helpless Sergio Rico.
The home side continued to create chances. Joe Bryan’s deep cross almost caught West Ham out, but Mitrovic’s improvised diving header at the back post went into the side netting. Andre Schurrle scurried across goal with the ball at his feet, but with the crowd urging him to try one of his trademark long shots, the German elected to try and feed the ball through to Mitrovic and the West Ham defence crowded the Serbian out. Kamara headed straight at Fabianski when well placed, whilst the former Arsenal goalkeeper also did well to thwart Mitrovic’s deflected drive.
Against all the odds it was 2-0 before the half hour as Fulham criminally switched off at the back once again. Anderson, whose confidence had been buoyed by the part he had played in the Hammers’ opening goal, whipped in a dangerous cross from the left, which Javier Hernandez flicked into the path of the unattended Michail Antonio and the forward had the freedom of Hammersmith and Fulham to slot a second decisively between the legs of Rico. This was the kind of avoidable goal that sums up just why Fulham remain rooted to the bottom of the table, having conceded some 42 goals in just 17 games so far this season.
They rarely looked like mounting a comeback during a soporific second half. Cairney and half-time substitute Cyrus Christie fashioned an opening shortly after the break but Mitrovic was crowded out by a resolute West Ham defence, Issa Diop did brilliantly to clear a low cross from the Irish international underneath his own crossbar and the visitors were happy to see out time largely untroubled as Manuel Pellegrini’s men moved up to ninth in the table.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Rico; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream (Christie 45); Chambers, Seri (Johansen 61), Cairney, Schurrle (Kebano 77); Kamara, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cisse, Ayite, Vietto.
BOOKED: Seri, Johansen.
WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): Fabianski; Zabaleta, Masuaku, Balbuena, Diop; Rice, Noble (Obiang 62), Snodgrass, Anderson; Hernandez (Carroll 73), Antonio (Diangana 85). Subs (not used): Adrian, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Xande Silva.
GOALS: Snodgrass (17), Antonio (29).
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Birkenhead).