Premier League - West Ham off bottom

Sun, 26 Dec 13:56:00 2010

Carlton Cole haunted Fulham again as West Ham won 3-1 at Craven Cottage to move off the bottom of the Premier League.

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The previously off-form England striker latched on defensive errors to take his tally against the Whites to six in five games, with strike partner Frederic Piquionne also on target after Aaron Hughes had put the hosts ahead.

The win hauls the Hammers off the bottom, a point clear of Wolves and on superior goal difference than Wigan, although both play later on Boxing Day.

It also marks the first time in 2010 that Hammers boss Avram Grant has been off the bottom of the Premier League, having taken Portsmouth down and seen his current side prop up the table since the start of the season.

On a day for West Ham statistical coups, it was also their first away win since beating Wolves on the opening day of last season, while it marked Cole’s first two-goal haul in his Premier League career.

A strange first half saw Fulham dominate, take the lead yet somehow go into the break 2-1 down after uncharacteristically poor defending allowed Cole and Piquionne to turn things around just before the break.

The second period saw a pedestrian Fulham toil to break the visitors down before Cole again pounced on a mistake to extend the lead, while Robert Green made a brilliant stop from Eddie Johnson to keep the hosts at bay.

The match started brightly as both sides exchanged chances, Cole fizzing a low drive just wide on seven minutes and Clint Dempsey misdirecting a free header into Rob Green’s arms soon after.

Fulham got into their passing rhythm, knocking the ball around neatly and pegging West Ham back, although they were a blunt force up front as Andy Johnson lacked the sharpness required of a lone striker.

They still went ahead on 10 minutes as Aaron Hughes powered a header into the top left, meeting Simon Davies’s perfect cross after West Ham failed to fully clear a corner: the marking was poor but the finish was superb, leaving Green with no chance.

Andy Johnson had a low shot well saved by Green but he should have put Fulham two goals clear when, on 18 minutes, he mishit the finish from eight yards after Matthew Upson and James Tomkins gave him the freedom of the penalty box to meet another Davies centre.

Fulham were bombarding their visitors, winning a succession of corners as Dempsey was denied a headed finish by a last-gasp intervention from Tal Ben-Haim.

Against the run of play, the Hammers levelled. A rare foray forward saw Freddie Sears - recalled from his loan at Scunthorpe and handed a surprise start - play what should have been an inconsequential low ball towards the edge of the box: inexplicably Dickson Etuhu stuck out a foot to divert the ball towards his own goal and Cole reacted first to slide a low finis past Mark Schwarzer into the bottom left.

It was a freak goal of sorts but it buoyed the Hammers, who almost got a second in the final minute of the half when Schwarzer flew out to make himself big and deny Cole again after a superb ball from Junior Stanislas sent him clean through.

They took the lead seconds later though when Scott Parker popped up on the left and was given time and space to pick out a far-post cross that Piquionne arrived unmarked to volley home in style. While the delivery and finish were excellent, but the lack of pressing on Parker and Carlos Salcido’s total absence to allow the Frenchman to score were utterly unacceptable.

The second half started with Fulham pressing for a leveller but West Ham had the first chance when, after Danny Murphy was caught dithering in possession, Piquionne and Sears combined to free Cole, who should have tested Schwarzer but for a heavy first touch.

That spurred Mark Hughes to make a 54th-minute change as a disappointed-looking Dempsey was replaced by Damien Duff, with Eddie Johnson also brought on for Etuhu.

Green was soon called into action, tipping away Pantsil’s cross with Andy Johnson set to pounce, while down the other end Sears went agonisingly close to making it 3-1 when he flashed his finish just wide with Schwarzer flailing.

Andy Johnson’s shooting boots again let him down, firing straight at Green as he scuttled through, while namesake Eddie’s first touch was well short of Premier League quality as he repeatedly mis-controlled simple balls.

Fulham paid the price for their wastefulness as, from a simple long ball, Aaron Hughes played a dreadful defensive header under minimal pressure from Piquionne, Cole again reacting quickest to spin off Brede Hangeland and rifle a low left-foot finish across Schwarzer.

With a two-goal deficit to overcome Fulham tried to step it up, with the best chance falling to Eddie Johnson who thought he had scored after flicking up Murphy’s pass and volleying from close range, only for Green to fly out and tip the ball over with a remarkable one-handed stop.

Murphy then volleyed over from 12 yards after Duff bought two yards with a stepover and drilled in an excellent cross, while West Ham showed that they could defend under pressure when Upson blocked Gera’s far-post header.

Andy Johnson scuffed a late half-chance into Green’s arms as Fulham huffed and puffed but in the end it was a comfortable win for the Hammers, who rise above Wigan and Wolves although remain behind Fulham on goal difference.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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