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Jol wants injury rule changed

Martin Jol has called for a change in the law after Fulham’s forwards were forced off by robust challenges from Norwich City defenders in the goalless draw at Carrow Road.

The Fulham manager felt his side were placed at an unfair disadvantage when Dimitar Berbatov had to leave the field after being caught by a high boot from Norwich midfielder Bradley Johnson in the early stages of the encounter. The Bulgarian international was bloodied by Johnson’s challenge and needed stitches. Jol’s frustrations only increased when Hugo Rodallega required treatment on the field after a tackle from behind by Elliott Bennett – and the Colombian forward was subsequently sent to the sidelines.

The Dutch coach is calling from a change in the law to prevent teams from being at a numerical disadvantage through no fault of their own:

I get very irritated by that, when someone kicks you and you have to go off for five minutes. Later, Hugo Rodallega was also kicked and he had to go off, and they played again 11 against 10.

We have got to change that because it is an awful rule. You should send their player away as well for five minutes and play 10 against 10.

Whites battle for vital West Ham win

The morning headlines will make much of Dimitar Berbatov’s 32nd birthday. The Bulgarian stooped to head in Fulham’s opener, sparkled far more against West Ham than he had done for several weeks in a Fulham shirt, and – in a sprint to try and secure possession as Martin Jol’s side sought to cling on to a vital victory – sustained a hamstring injury that is likely to rule him out with another renunion with Manchester United on Saturday evening.

Whilst Berbatov was the main attraction, dropping into midfield to link the play in his usual languid fashion, Fulham finally had a bit of thrust up front and guile behind their laconic forward. It was the Colombian Hugo Rodallega, who has produced only in patches since arriving on a free transfer from Wigan in the summer, who provided a timely injection of belief after the home side had threatened to throw away yet another winning position. Rodallega somehow outjumped three West Ham defenders to nod Damien Duff’s cross past Jussi Jaaskelainen barely a minute after Berbatov had let Kevin Nolan stroll onto Mark Noble’s quickly-taken free-kick and lash home the equaliser.

Fulham’s performance was far from first class and they were fortunate to take the lead when they did as any one of three attackers might have been gflagged offside from Duff’s dangerous free-kick. James Tomkins appealed in vain for the decision as Berbatov squeezed his header in from the tightest of angles at the far post before nearly colliding with an advertising hoarding at the Putney End. The Bulgarian looked across at the assistant before being enveloped by joyous team-mates and the television replays suggested he was at least a yard offside.

A fiesty midfield battle between Giorgis Karagounis and Mohamed Diame raged for much of the hour that Fulham’s Greek veteran was on the field, although the Senegalese midfielder was more incesed with the rough nature of Steve Sidwell’s robust challenge that earned him a booking. In front of those two, Bryan Ruiz offered glimpses of creativity but was visibly tiring by the time that Jol opted to introduce Ashkan Dejagah and the Iranian winger’s pace – as Fulham reverted to a more traditional 4-4-2 – unsettled the Hammers’ defence. An even midfield battle saw much of the home side’s first half threat provided by Berbatov, whilst Nolan nodded the visitors’ best chance inexplicably wide from an inviting Diame cross.

Sam Allardyce threw on Carlton Cole and Andy Carroll, who had terrorised Fulham on his West Ham debut back in August, in an attempt to salvage a point. The double change gave the visitors a far more physical presence up front, underscoring Jol’s decision to replace Aaron Hughes with Philippe Senderos. That move looked far from sensible when Senderos squandered possession in the Fulham box, allowing Nolan a low shot from an acute angle – and the hosts were indebted to a sprawling save from Mark Schwarzer. The Australian goalkeeper also saved smartly from Carroll shortly after his introduction – but it was Fulham who found a further goal in stoppage time.

Mladen Petric, who had spurned a glorious chance with a tame side-footed finish moments after replacing Berbatov, displayed his predatory instincts by following in a Rodallega header and forcing a shot goalwards after the grounded Jaaskelainen had parried the initial effort. The Croatian’s shot rolled off the post and over the line via Joey O’Brien as the defender desperately tried to clear the danger. This vital victory was only Fulham’s second of the new year – and lifted Jol’s side above the Hammers and into twelve in the table.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether, J.A. Riise, Senderos, Hangeland; Karagounis (Baird 66), Sidwell; Ruiz (Dejagah 66), Berbatov (Petric 78), Duff; Rodallega. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Hughes, Frimpong, Davies.

BOOKED:Sidwell, Riether.

GOALS: Berbatov (10), Rodallega (49), O’Brien (o.g. 90).

WEST HAM UNITED (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel (Taylor 67), Tomkins, Reid, O’Brien; Diame, Noble; Nolan, Jarvis, J. Cole (Carroll 76); Chamakah (C. Cole 56). Subs (not used): Henderson, Pogatetz, O’Neil, Vaz Te.

GOAL: Nolan (48).

REFEREE: Chris Foy (St. Helen’s).

ATTENDANCE: 24,791.

Rodallega’s return fires Fulham to fine win

It was almost as if a shy and modest Hugo Rodallega didn’t realise what he’d done. With one flick of his dashing dreadlocks, the Colombian forward scored his first goal in eight months on his return to Wigan Athletic and set his new employers on course for a rare – and important – away win. Rodallega refused to celebrate his goal on the pitch after his four fruitful years with the Latics and was similarly unmoved when hundreds of delirious Fulham fans sernaded their new signing, to the strains of the Proclaimers, upon his low-key arrival at Wigan North Western station. Happy to pose for pictures and sign autographs both on the platform and the train, the 27 year-old has quickly become a cult hero.

There was some doubt about he would make Martin Jol’s starting line-up on his return to Lancashire, with Bryan Ruiz and Mladen Petric both available after injury, but the Fulham boss was convinced that ‘Rodallega would do something nice’. Jol’s conviction was proved right just after the half hour when the lone striker leapt to power Dimitar Berbatov’s floated cross past Ali Al-Habsi. It was a goal Fulham badly needed as for all the excellent interplay between the new lone striker and Berbatov, described as ‘the perfect number ten’ by his manager afterwards, the most memorable moment of the preceeding thirty minutes came when referee Lee Probert was floored by the combined force of a fierce 50-50 between Ben Watson and Steve Sidwell and self-effacingly showed himself a red card.

Roberto Martinez, who hoped his side could recover from their harsh hammering at Old Trafford last weekend in front of their own fans, felt his side were ‘naive’ and was disappointed that the game was far too open. Wigan certainly started in the best possible fashion, with Mark Schwarzer called into action to field an early sighter from Aroune Kone. Had the Ivorian striker been slightly more clinical before lashing home an injury-time consolation, the afternoon might have taken an entirely different course. The August arrival from Sevilla should have levelled the contest when released by a cute James McCarthy pass but Schwarzer swept from his line and smothered the danger. Wigan also hit the woodwork just before the break through Jordi Gomez’s rising drive and Emmerson Boyce’s reaction suggested he felt he should have headed a Maynor Figueroa past the Fulham goalkeeper rather than wide of the far post.

Although the hosts dominated possession, Fulham fashioned plenty of chances of their own. Far more fluid and ambitious in forward areas then under either Roy Hodgsaon and Mark Hughes, the movement of Berbatov, Duff and Kacaniklic caused plenty of problems for the Latics back three. Al-Habsi made a fine sprawling save from Berbatov’s low drive and Kacaniklic fizzed a shot over the crossbar from the left angle of the box, while Jean Beausejour did brilliantly to hook Chris Baird’s effort clear from underneath his own crossbar.

Wigan went in search of an equaliser after the break and only the offside flag denied them a leveller when Gomez was adjudged to have been caught as Fulham stepped up before he cut the ball back for McCarthy inside the six-yard box. The Latics only had themselves to blame just before the hour when Gomez somehow stabbed wide after Schwarzer had parried a speculative Mauro Boselli strike – and the Spaniard’s glaring miss was to prove costly as Jol’s side broke quickly to seal the contest.

The crucial second owed much to the persistence of Ruiz, who jinked his way to the edge of the box after receiving an inviting inside ball from Rodallega, and refused to allow Gary Caldwell to rob him of possession. The Costa Rican’s strength forced the ball out to the onrushing Damien Duff, who fired his third goal of a fine season across Al-Habsi and celebrated with the delirious travelling support. Martinez threw up on Callum McManaman and Arsenal loanee  Ryo Miyaichi for the final thirteen minutes and both had an immediate impact. The Japanese winger’s deep cross could have floated inside the far post were it not for Schwarzer’s sharp reflexes and McManaman, showing the confidence that flows from a series of strong performances for Wigan’s U21 side, made the Wigan goal when his half-volley bounced around into the Fulham box and was converted by Kone.

There followed two and a half minutes of concerted Wigan pressure – with Al-Habsi even venturing forward at the death for a corner – but Fulham hung on for three precious points that lifted Jol’s side into the top four of the early Premier League table. It’s certainly some turnaround from the Dutchman’s start at Craven Cottage, when his side failed to win any of his first six league fixtures, and this result was even more impressive given that it was achieved without the power of Mahmadou Diarra in midfield.

WIGAN ATHLETIC (3-4-2-1): Al-Habsi; Caldwell (Miyaichi 77), Boyce (McManaman 77), Ramis; Watson, McCarthy, Figueroa, Gomez (Boselli 62); Maloney, Beausejour; Kone. Subs (not used): Pollitt, Crusat, Jones, McArthur.

GOAL: Kone (90).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether, J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Sidwell; Duff, Kacaniklic (Ruiz 59), Berbatov; Rodallega (Briggs 88). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Karagounis, Kasami, Petric.

BOOKED: Sidwell, Hughes, Baird.

GOALS: Rodallega (31), Duff (68).

REFEREE: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).

ATTENDANCE: 19,284.

Hangeland heaps praise on Fulham’s new forwards

Brede Hangeland hailed Fulham’s resolve after the Whites got back to winning ways this afternoon with a 3-0 win over West Brom.

The Fulham captain praised the performance of Dimitar Berbatov, who scored twice on his first appearance at Craven Cottage, but also lauded an energetic display from Hugo Rodallega who himself was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.

It was a very good overall performance on Saturday and I was really pleased for Dimitar to score two goals on his home debut. Obviously we’re really happy for him but we all knew his quality. We’ve played against him in the past and seen him do incredible stuff for many years now. It’s great to see him here at Fulham.

I thought we dominated the game. Obviously when they had a man sent off it made it easier for us, but I thought we were good value for the three points. We knew we had Hugo and Dimitar in attack and we wanted to try and dominate the game and make life hard for West Brom, as we always should against any team at home.

There have been a lot of changes and there are a lot of new faces but we managed to perform really well as team and play some nice football against West Brom.  We’re really happy with how things went. In the two home games we’ve been brilliant and we’ve got to try and do that away from home now.  I think we’ve proved to everyone that we can play really good football and do well so we’ll try and carry that on next weekend against Wigan.

Three and easy

It took only 57 seconds for Kevin Nolan to lash the Hammers' ahead yesterday

I always enjoy my trips to West Ham. There’s a historical bond between the clubs that stretches beyond Bobby Moore and 1975 to the likes of Leroy Rosenior and, even more recently, Andy Melville and Luis Boa Morte. More than that, though, the Hammers are a reminder of what football used to be like: a proper club that hasn’t forgotten its roots at the heart of London’s East End and embodies the blueprint that Trevor Brooking is now trying implement across the country for the Football Association after his education at the Boleyn Ground.

Unfortunately, Fulham are far too accommodating almost every time the Whites make the short trip down the District Line. Just as we’ve become accustomed to wretched away showings in the top flight these days, I’m probably a bit too blase about Fulham’s appalling record at Upton Park. Statistically speaking, West Ham are the side who average more points against us than any other since Jean Tigana guided Fulham back to English football’s elite at the turn of the millennium. Furthermore, we’ve mustered just two paltry wins at West Ham in that time – one was on our very first Premier League visit in 2001 and the other was a surprise FA Cup replay success, sparked by a wondergoal from Brian McBride, that perked up a hospitalised Chris Coleman four years later. But, for the most part, our performances at West Ham have been gallant failures or gutsy draws: like the late point secured by Phillipe Christanval after Vincenzo Montella made his debut from the bench. The memory of Junior Stanislas’ speculative injury-time effort taking a hefty deflection off Aaron Hughes and wrong-footing Mark Schwarzer just as we dared to dream that Roy Hodgson’s ten man might break the West Ham hoodoo in 2009 still lingers in the back of my brain.

As I wrote yesterday in the lead-up to the first London derby of the campaign, setting the right tone early was crucial. Sam Allardyce wrote in the programme yesterday about the atmosphere and frenzied pace of a meeting between two sides from the capital – this was the first of ten such clashes this season for both sides – and the Hammers’ boss will have identified this as a home banker in his quest to garner enough points to keep the Hammers well clear of the dreaded drop zone. On yesterday’s performance, the Irons look more like top ten contenders – but that might have had a fair bit to do with West Ham’s desire to respond immediately to their forgettable South Wales sojourn as well as Fulham’s generous defending.

Going behind to the fastest goal of the season might not have been in Martin Jol’s plans, but you know he would have seen it coming. Andy Carroll, who cantered around like a carefree schoolboy let out of lessons early in the warm-up, looked like a man instantaneously free of the pressure created by that hefty £35m price tag placed around his shoulders when Liverpool opted for him to replace Fernando Torres. When a manager and his team-mates believe in him and the side is constructed to his strengths, as he showed for the Anfield outfit at the tail end of last season and during his commanding display for Roy Hodgson’s England against Sweden this summer, Carroll is almost irresistible. The fact that his great mate Kevin Nolan is his captain again at West Ham probably helped clinch a loan move the old-fashioned number nine needed to reignite his career – and it was almost scripted that the pair would combine for the opening goal.

That Fulham conceded from the first high ball they had to deal with set the tone for the afternoon. Allardyce’s plans all came to fruition. Carroll, given the chance to contest a hopeful header from the back with a run at a static Brede Hangeland, soared high and flicked the ball beyond the Norwegian centre half. That allowed Ricardo Vaz Te, so lethal during West Ham’s promotion season last year, to saunter into the box beyond Aaron Hughes and his clever flick caught Sasha Riether out of position and Nolan arrived to send a first-time volley across Mark Schwarzer from twelve yards. 57 seconds was it all took – it was simply too straightforward.

Where West Ham were on the front foot and rampaging forward at will, Fulham were fitful. When the Whites did have possession (and they enjoyed slightly more of the ball than their hosts overall) they frequently squandered it and Mladen Petric was so starved of service that it seemed slightly harsh to withdraw him at half time. The visitors certainly didn’t make enough of Joey O’Brien’s presence as a makeshift left back: twice in the first twenty minutes, Damien Duff beat him with ease but Fulham to give the intelligent Irish winger the ball enough to exploit that weakness.

Instead, the only weaknesses were at the heart of a usually impregnable Fulham defence. The second goal was so sloppily conceded from a set-piece it left me – never mind Jol and his coaching staff – seething with rage. Fulham failed to screen the near post sufficently, Schwarzer should have been more decisive in his six-yard box to connect with Matt Taylor’s inswinging corner and a man of Winston Reid’s aerial ability was given far too much freedom to bend his run and power a header into the centre of the goal.

Coming back from 2-0 down is difficult but not impossible, especially when you consider that Jol had a fair bit of attacking talent to introduce from the bench. The third goal was perhaps the most frustrating of the lot. Mahamadou Diarra might have had a case for being impeded by Andy Carroll at this set-play but a man who has graced the Champions’ League with distinction and made all those appearances for Real Madrid should simply be stronger in that situation in front of a burly centre forward. Hangeland’s header away was clumsy but Fulham failed to close down Taylor from the sort of range where he’s been a menace for years – and paid the penalty.

There was a lot of opprobrium in the away end by this point and poor old Kieran Richardson, once a West Ham youngster, was the target of much of it. This was unfair. Richardson’s an excellent footballer, quietly efficient in midfield, and showed enough ambition to muster Fulham’s first shot on target, which really extended Jaaskelainen down to his left. Given that the versatile midfielder, good enough to be considered worth a serious run in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England side when he broke through at Old Trafford, had hardly trained with his new team-mates after concluding a late switch from Sunderland yesterday, it was a big call to put him in central midfield alongside Steve Sidwell. Richardson, a willing worker and technically sound, will be far better than what he showed yesterday afternoon and is a real bargain at around £2m.

Fulham were far better in the second half once Dimitar Berbatov was introduced, although West Ham were in cruising mode by this point. The Bulgarian looked eager to make an impression, almost as if he was aggrieved to have to sit through the abject first forty five minutes (you weren’t the only one, Dimitar). His first touch was as resplendent as we remember and there were all the clever flicks and tricks to bring his team-mates into play. It was all a little academic but in a single half of football, Berbatov made five chances and that makes him our second most creative player of the season.

Whilst the defending was abject and the defeat proved a painful reminder of why anything more than mid-table is far too ambitious before Jol manages to cure Fulham’s chronic away form, there’s enough to suggest that the Whites won’t struggle for creativity going forward post-Dempsey and Dembele. Anyone suggesting that the Whites looked devoid of dynamism yesterday is right, of course, but should remember that Bryan Ruiz was ruled out with a hamstring injury. The Costa Rican has looked superb behind a lone striker after completing a full pre-season and Berbatov’s arrival will mean that Mladen Petric might have to play out wide. That creates competition for places and I felt Alex Kacaniklic was unfortunate to dropped after his fine start plus there’s Kerim Frei to return from injury.

We might have been well beaten at the Boleyn Ground – but that’s not unusual. In 1968, a side containing George Cohen as well as the late Johnny Haynes and Sir Bobby Robson were battered 7-2. Most Fulham fans would have taken three points from the first three games, considering that they included trips to Manchester United and West Ham. The season’s not decided in September, although Jol will be wanting his new-look side to set the record straight against West Brom after the international break.