Dire Hammers have to settle for a point
West Ham United 2 Fulham 2 THIS WAS the game where everything was supposed to turn round in West Ham s favour, it was Gianfranco Zola s Cup Final and nothing but a victory would suffice, writes DAVE EVANS.. But when the final whistle blew it was the Ham
West Ham United 2 Fulham 2
THIS WAS the game where everything was supposed to turn round in West Ham's favour, it was Gianfranco Zola's 'Cup Final' and nothing but a victory would suffice, writes DAVE EVANS..
But when the final whistle blew it was the Hammers fans who were breathing a sigh of relief amid the boos; it was the Italian's boys who looked like relegation candidates and not a Fulham side who were forced to play with 10 men for nearly 50 minutes.
It has all started so positively for West Ham. With Alessandro Diamanti, Luis Jimenez, Zavon Hines and Carlton Cole all in the starting line-up it looked like an attacking line-up, and though in essence it was still a 4-5-1 formation, there were promising signs.
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Cole shot over after just 20 seconds, while Diamanti ballooned over after a quick free kick from Mark Noble, but on 16 minutes the Hammers grabbed a deserved lead.
Diamanti arrowed over a free kick and the excellent Cole got in front of Brede Hangeland to head the ball into the corner as Paul Konchesky left his station on the near post.
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Fulham did go close when Danny Murphy's free kick saw Andy Johnson steal a march on Matty Upson only to see his shot slip wide of the far post, but it was West Ham who had the attacking edge and they should have added to their score before the break.
James Tomkins headed a Diamanti header inches wide, while the exuberant Scott Parker stormed into the area and set up Cole for a shot that flew wide, and then had a go himself when Diamanti's cross was cleared only as far as the little midfielder, only for his drilled shot to be well held by Mark Schwarzer.
Hines found Noble in the area, only for the midfielder to badly scuff his shot, while seconds before half time, Herita Ilunga slipped the ball to Hines who thumped a shot past the far post.
By that point, West Ham were handed another huge advantage as Fulham were reduced to 10 men in controversial circumstances. A tussle between Kagisho Dikgacoi and Parker saw the pair put their heads into each other, and referee Phil Dowd was quick to race over and book the West Ham man.
What he hadn't seen was the beginning of that contretemps, very few people had, but the linesman signalled and moments later the Fulham man was on the way back to the dressing room for an alleged elbow and a more blatant push in the face.
Everything was going right for the Hammers, but for some reason, Zola smelt a rat.
"To be honest, I wasn't very happy, because at the end of the first half I expected us to be at least another goal up with the chances we created," said the manager.
"I didn't like something in the game, I smelt something wrong, because it looked too easy.
"We were passing the ball fantastically well, getting chances and not scoring and that is not good."
There seemed to be no real danger signs, but within 12 minutes of the restart, West Ham were behind against the 10-men.
Just a minute into the second half, Upson needlessly challenged Diomansy Kamara in the area and the referee quickly pointed to the spot.
Danny Murphy sent Green the wrong way from the spot to level, and Green was at the centre of things again on 57 minutes.
First he pushed Konchesky's deflected free kick round the post, but from the former Hammer's corner, Green flapped, missed the ball and the late-arriving Zoltan Gera was there to force the ball past Noble on the line.
It was two bad mistakes, by two of West Ham's England internationals, and Zola was livid with what happened next.
"What was poor was the fact that when we conceded a goal, the whole team lost faith and belief and that is something that I really hate," he slammed.
"No matter what happens, you keep playing your football and at the end of the game we are going to see what is going to happen. I don't like that kind of attitude, we have to react and we have to be stronger.
"Today Arsenal were losing twice and in the end they won 6-2, that is the sort of belief that we have to keep."
In reality though, West Ham are a million miles from the Gunners, who are the next visitors to Upton Park. This Hammers team certainly had the stuffing knocked out of them by those two goals, but they had neither the ammunition, nor the tactics to hit back.
Too often Cole was left up front on his own to deal with three or four defenders at once; too often striker Hines was playing like a left winger; too often Diamanti cut back in from the right wing and lost the ball with aimless crosses or passes; too often Parker and Noble looked content to play the simple ball instead of taking the game by the scruff of the neck and getting themselves into the Fulham penalty area.
"In the second half, not for the first time, we started a little bit sloppy," said Zola.
"They got back into the game and after that it is difficult because Fulham are very, very good when they have to defend and it has been very difficult for us to get the draw."
The arrival of Valon Behrami and Junior Stanislas with 20 minutes to go, gave West Ham a better balance, and it was the latter who was to finally earn the Hammers a point.
He had already stung Schwarzer's fingers on 78 minutes with a fierce shot, but the game had slipped into injury time before West Ham had a huge slice of luck.
Ilunga fed Stanislas and when his shot deflected off the knee of Aaron Hughes, the ball changed direction to give the Fulham goalkeeper no chance of stopping it.
Even then Fulham should have won it. Green inexplicably hit a clearance into Fulham sub Eddie Johnson, but the young striker could not find the unguarded net from 20 yards out.
When teams grab injury-time equalisers it almost seems like they have won the match - not in this game. Despite the point, such was the way that West Ham threw away a winning position; this seemed like a disastrous defeat and puts them team under huge pressure for the trip to Stoke City on October 17.
"The game is made by details, and if you don't pay attention to the details you are going to keep dropping points," said Zola.
He's right, the game is about details and the details are just five points, second from bottom in the table and a formation that is simply not good enough at the moment.