While Fulham can breathe a little easier after a welcome victory that lifted them eight points clear of the bottom three, Sam Allardyce should start to worry. This was West Ham's sixth defeat in their last nine league matches and, although it seems fanciful to suggest they could slip into a relegation battle, what began as a minor slump is threatening to turn into a major crisis. West Ham are seven points clear of the bottom three but their form is deeply concerning.
Allardyce left it to his assistant, Neil McDonald, to speak afterwards. "Sam's had some dentistry done today so his mouth's a little bit sore," McDonald explained. That was probably for the best, because West Ham's manager might have turned the air blue if he had been asked to sum up his team's defending.
Anything but a Fulham victory would have been a gross injustice and perhaps the only disappointment was that Martin Jol did not give a debut to the on-loan Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong. But then, who needs the robustness of Frimpong in midfield when you have the sublime artistry of Dimitar Berbatov? The Bulgarian, who would depart with a hamstring complaint that needs to be assessed, was clearly in the mood to party on his 32nd birthday and there were times when his flicks, tricks and sheer class embarrassed West Ham's defenders.
Berbatov could have had a hat-trick and it was a shame that the one goal he did score ought to have been disallowed. He was one of three Fulham players who was offside when Damien Duff swung a deep free-kick to the far post from the right but the flag stayed down and Berbatov stooped to head in from close range after 10 minutes. "It knocks the stuffing out of you," McDonald said. "We expect the officials to get that right."
West Ham also grumbled about penalties not awarded but they deserved little. In defence James Tomkins was a disaster waiting to happen, Marouane Chamakh was anonymous up front and it was difficult to work out why Mohamed Diamé is a transfer target for Arsenal and Tottenham.
The visitors improved after the break, though, and Fulham could have collapsed when Kevin Nolan ran on to Mark Noble's clever free-kick and hooked a volley past Mark Schwarzer from six yards after 48 minutes. Yet West Ham were level for barely a minute. Duff was again the creator, sending in a cross from the left that Hugo Rodallega bundled in. As Jaaskelainen stood and watched Duff's cross, it became obvious why West Ham are in talks to sign the Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson.
Schwarzer then made a stunning save to deny Nolan a second before Andy Carroll came off the bench to make his first appearance since November after his knee injury. However, Fulham's defence, led by the outstanding Brede Hangeland, remained stout and they wrapped up the points in the last minute. Jaaskelainen saved from Rodallega, Mladen Petric hit the rebound against a post from a tight angle and the ball finally rebounded off Joey O'Brien for an own-goal.
"If you saw the last four games at home we lacked a bit of luck and quality," Jol said. "I heard the first goal was irregular. I'm not sure, maybe it was. You win some, you lose some." Or in West Ham's case, lose some, then lose some more.
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