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Fulham 2-1 West Ham Prem 20 1314 Mirror

last updated Thursday 02nd January 2014, 6:32 PM
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Mike Walters at The Mirror

Fulham (1) 2 West Ham (1) 1

Dimitar Berbatov became the first Bulgarian entitled to stay in Britain without working for it under our new immigration laws.

Fulham striker Berbatov will never be accused of grafting too hard to earn a crust, or getting on the end of a cross if he can send his butler to fetch it.

But as the Cottagers sprang out of the bottom three against the wretched 10-man Hammers, Berbatov's fifth goal of the season settled the first detox derby of 2014 - a match you want to get out of your system as quickly as possible.

According to right-wing scaremongers, when the clock struck midnight and we all linked arms for Auld Lang Syne, millions of Romanians and Bulgarians were preparing to invade our shores.

But after Kevin Nolan's criminal red card a minute before the break, for kicking Fernando Amorebieta off the ball, West Ham switched off and failed to notice a Bulgarian who has been over here for eight years already.

And when Berbatov arrived at the far post in the 66th minute to poke Adel Taarabt's cross past Jussi Jaaskelainen, the Hammers were stranded three points below the dotted line.

Nolan, sent off at Liverpool last month for a spiteful challenge on Jordan Henderson, we can deal with summarily:

He should be stripped of the captain's badge for bringing shame on the regiment. When manager Sam Allardyce is fighting to save his job, Nolan will be a fat lot of use to him in the sin bin for the next four games.

But Fulham, licking their wounds after a six-goal tonking at Hull, are a curious bunch who have turned unpredictable into an art form.

Technical director Alan Curbishley and new assistant coach Ray Wilkins may not have been the new faces fans hoped to see abseiling down the chimney at Craven Cottage in Christmas week.

And when the Premier League's leakiest defence was breached for a 42nd time this season after just seven minutes, as Mohamed Diame turned Jaaskelainen's wind-assisted clearance past David Stockdale, West Ham's task looked simpler than potting jellied eels.

But Stockdale's acrobatic 'scissors' save kept out Nolan's far-post header after 23 minutes - which Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen correctly identified as a turning point - and nine minutes later Steve Sidwell nodded the equaliser in from Damien Duff's corner, seconds after Mark Noble had limped off with a calf injury.

Once Nolan had lost his marbles, the Hammers' only hope of survival was to park the bus, but after Berbatov found a way past Jaaskelainen, Fulham ran down the clock like the mouse in Hickory Dickory Dock.

Substitute Darren Bent, clean through, squandered the chance to settle all arguments.

Meulensteen said: "We definitely needed that after what happened at Hull, and conceding an early goal was not part of the plan.

"Sometimes you can be too eager against 10 men and lose possession in stupid areas, but we found the right balance between being patient and finding the quality to create good chances.

"I know the fans were a bit anxious towards the end, but deep down they understand the situation we are in. Sometimes you need to patient instead of rushing in - and that patience paid off because Berbatov got us the winner and he knows how important this win was.

"It doesn't mean we've turned a corner, but it was a really good reaction to our previous result and that's what I call a Happy New Year."

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