Wednesday 21 March 2018

Clinical Cole finds Fulham in generous mood

Fulham 1
West Ham 3

Mark Fleming at Craven Cottage

Those West Ham United fans who made it across London despite the Tube strike were richly rewarded by witnessing their team's first away victory since the opening day of last season.

Sixteen months without a win on the road is a heck of a wait. But they might have to go as long again to find hosts as generous as Fulham, who threw away their dominant position in the game with alarming complacency. Christmas is a time for giving, as Cliff Richard likes to sing, and few this year will have been quite as giving as Fulham were yesterday.

They dominated possession and were on top thanks to Aaron Hughes' 16th-minute header but threw the game away with some remarkably inept defending. West Ham, and in particular Carlton Cole who scored twice for the first time in his Premier League career, deserve great credit for having their wits about them so they were able to capitalise on the home side's errors and grab three points that could prove vital in their fight against relegation.

Yet Fulham should never have allowed it to happen, and manager Mark Hughes faces an uphill task lifting his side for tomorrow's trip to Stoke City with the club having slipped into the relegation zone. The former Manchester City manager left the pitch to chants of 'Hughes out' from pockets of Fulham supporters.

Hughes claimed afterwards he had the support of most of the fans. "When you lose home games they are well within their rights to vent frustration because they have seen their team lose at home and that is something that has not happened on regular occasions," he said.

His opposite number Grant milked the applause, having won again by the skin of his teeth, at the very moment when he appeared to be heading for the sack. Grant did it earlier in the season with wins over Tottenham Hotspur in September and Stoke City in October, and has now done it again in December.

West Ham co-owner David Gold said after the match that Grant's position was never in doubt. "I don't think that was the issue," he said. "We are working with Avram, we are desperate to get out of the bottom three."

The sense of relief among the West Ham contingent was palpable, given the way the game had appeared to be heading when Fulham went 1-0 up inside 16 minutes. Defender Aaron Hughes was unmarked to head home his first goal for the club from a left-wing cross from Simon Davies. West Ham heads went down, and Fulham dominated until the 37th minute, when the Hammers pulled level.

Freddie Sears hit a poor cross from the right, but Dickson Etuhu intervened to slide the ball to the feet of Cole, who turned and finished with one touch. Fulham's profligacy continued into first-half stoppage time when Frederic Piquionne was left unmarked to volley in at the far post and somehow West Ham were 2-1 up. Fulham's normally reliable defender Hughes was then at fault, diverting Danny Gabbidon's cross to Cole (left) who turned and finished.

Grant praised his team's character.

"I am very pleased with the character and spirit we showed. The most important thing today was the three points. I hope this is the turning point," Grant said. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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