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Chris of Jokes

Fulham expose West Ham

last updated Monday 05th October 2009, 3:32 PM
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David Hytner at The Guardian

West Ham 2 Fulham 2

The most damning indictment against West Ham United here was that for almost all of the second half it was impossible to tell that it was Fulham who had been reduced to 10 men, by the controversial 40th-minute dismissal of KG Dikgacoi.

Gianfranco Zola could enjoy the comfort of having seen one of his substitutes, the winger Junior Stanislas, snatch a scarcely deserved point with a last-gasp, deflected shot. The Upton Park crowd was not fooled. Stoppage-time equalisers tend to have a restorative effect. Not here. The sound of the full-time whistle shortly afterwards was greeted by boos.

After Stanislas's goal, Fulham might have re-established their advantage. Robert Green, the West Ham goalkeeper, raced from his line, only to be tackled by the Fulham substitute Eddie Johnson who, from 25 yards, had a fleeting yet clear sight of goal. Matthew Upson, however, held him up and when Johnson did jink inside and shoot, his effort went wide.

Zola had castigated his players for their limp performance in defeat at Manchester City last Monday, claiming it had been the "worst" of the season, but as precious few players stood tall to assume the responsibility while Fulham's 10 men rallied from 1-0 down to go 2-1 up, it was difficult to take any positives from this display either.

West Ham are in the bottom three and although David Gold and David Sullivan, the former Birmingham City owners, are plotting a takeover of the club, the feeling at Upton Park is that a long season lay ahead.

Fulham made far fewer passes than West Ham as they struggled with 10 men for over half of the game, but of those they did make, many were more central and offensive thanks to the forward-thinking Danny Murphy in midfield.

"What was poor was when we conceded, the whole team lost faith and that is something I really hate," said Zola. "Earlier in the day, Arsenal were losing twice but they won 6-2. That's the kind of belief we need. I smelt something wrong today because it felt too easy in the first half. In the second half, we started sloppily."

The Upton Park crowd had endured defeats in the other two Premier League fixtures here this season, against Tottenham and Liverpool, and there was an edginess about them throughout. Misplaced passes from those in claret and blue drew groans and the players appeared to become increasingly affected by the tension.

Carlton Cole's opening goal did not soothe the nerves as it ought to have done. Perhaps the home support were aware of the statistic which showed that each of the striker's previous four goals this season had come in defeats. Cole could nonetheless cherish the finish. From a free-kick whipped over by Alessandro Diamanti, Cole outmuscled Brede Hangeland, all 6ft 5in of him, to glance a header into the top corner.

Fulham lost their bearings for a period. They allowed James Tomkins in for a free header which he sent wide and Scott Parker, Cole and Zavon Hines had further sightings of goal. At the other end, Andy Johnson tiptoed through following a quick free-kick but his finish was wayward.

Fulham might have felt it was not to be their day when Dikgacoi became embroiled, somewhat needlessly, in an off-the-ball incident with Parker.

The South African midfielder, making only his second appearance and his first start for the club, raised his hands to push Parker in the face and, after Parker had pushed him back, the pair pressed their foreheads together, in that peculiar manner of the modern footballer.

The referee, Phil Dowd, booked them both but then, on the advise of his assistant, waved the red card at Dikgacoi. Fulham's players were angry at Parker's protests to the officials, while their manager, Roy Hodgson, argued with Parker in the tunnel at half-time. Parker tried to indicate to him that he had been struck by Dikgacoi.

"The referee said the red card was for violent conduct," said Hodgson. "I come from a generation where violent conduct was violent."

Fulham's fightback was sparked after the interval, when Upson put a hand on Diomansy Kamara's shoulder and felt him fall to the ground. Danny Murphy sent Green the wrong way from the spot. Fulham saw the tide turn after Green flapped at a Paul Konchesky corner and the unmarked Zoltan Gera volleyed home, but Hodgson's hopes of a "famous victory" were dashed at the death. He did, however, have much more to smile about than Zola.
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