West Ham battle back to take the points against relegation haunted Fulham
PUBLISHED: 00:19 23 February 2019
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The Hammers had to come from behind with goals from Hernandez, Diop and Antonio to beat Cottagers
West Ham United 3 Fulham 1
The Hammers cemented their place in the Top 10 with a hard-fought victory over the crumbling Cottagers, who took another step towards the dreaded drop at the London Stadium, where Manuel Pellegrini’s men completed their first double of the season.
Former Liverpool striker Ryan Babel put the visitors ahead after just three minutes with his first goal back in England following his January signing from Besiktas, before Javier Hernández fortuitously equalised on the half-hour with a sixth strike of the campaign that the Fulham vehemently protested had found the net via hand rather than head.
And five minutes before the interval, Issa Diop headed home his first-ever Premier League goal, before Michail Antonio sealed victory with a last-gasp header to leave forlorn Fulham eight points adrift of safety.
With no FA Cup involvement last weekend, the Hammers had jetted off for a brief break into the Spanish sun following their 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace, 13 days earlier.
And returning to smoggy Stratford for this London derby the East Enders, who kicked-off in 10th spot – nine places and 16 points ahead of the visitors – made just one change from the side that had shared the spoils at Selhurst Park as Pablo Zabaleta replaced former Fulham old boy, Ryan Fredericks, who found himself on a bench lifted by the sight of a fit-again Manuel Lanzini, making a welcome return to the fold after damaging knee ligaments at Argentina’s pre-2018 World Cup training camp.
But the Hammers looked as though they were still on the beach in the early exchanges as Zabaleta’s sloppy backpass let in Babel, who wastefully clipped his eight-yarder into Lukasz Fabianski’s chest with less than 60 seconds on the clock, before Aleksandar Mitrović then fired a low 15-yarder inches wide of the right-hand post.
With West Ham seemingly playing in their flip-flops, the visitors then went one better and took a third-minute lead, when Jean Michael Seri released the overlapping Sessegnon, who sent a low left-wing cross into the six-yard box, where Babel got between Diop and Aaron Cresswell to side-foot the visitors into the lead to the amazement of their long-suffering, travelling fans.
After all, Fulham’s three-goal defeat against Manchester United last time out, had left them second from bottom, having lost five of their previous six league outings.
Without an away win all season, too, and with just two clean sheets to their name, the Cottagers had made a trio of switches to the side that had fallen to the resurgent Red Devils as ex-Hammer Håvard Nordtveit, Sessegnon and skipper Tom Cairney returned in place of Andre Schürrle plus substitutes Maxime Le Marchand and Luciano Vietto.
Having gone behind so early, Pellegrini’s shell-shocked Hammers desperately tried to get back on terms as Diop met a Robert Snodgrass corner with an angled header which pitched just inches past the far post as Antonio slid in.
With the early pace gradually settling down and a wintry mist rolling into the stadium, Cairney’s 25-yarder then forced Fabianski into a full-length save on 20 minutes.
But as the half-hour mark approached, the Hammers somehow levelled, when Snodgrass sent a right-wing corner towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Sergio Rico could only punch the ball high into the dark Stratford skies. Antonio reacted first to head goalwards and, with Angelo Ogbonna helping the effort on, the diving Hernández diverted the ball into the net with hand rather than head beyond Nordtveit guarding the left post.
That was the Mexican’s 50th Premier League strike and, with each and every one of them coming inside the penalty area, Hernández has surely never netted a more scrappy, illegal effort in that half-century of close-range goals but despite the protests of despairing Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri, referee Lee Mason somehow still allowed it to stand.
Five minutes before the break, it got yet worse for the incandescent Italian, when Diop rose above the Fulham defence to head the Hammers into an interval lead after Snodgrass had delivered another inviting corner towards the edge of the six-yard box.
Fredericks replaced Zabaleta for the restart, while Sessegnon and Seri retired in place of André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Lazar Marković and, after the alert Fabianski held a blistering Babel blaster, a disappointed Hernández made way for Marko Arnautović, who arrived to a mixed reception following his January transfer window shenanigans.
With Cairney cleverly releasing Mitrović, the flying Fredericks soon had to be at his paciest to tackle the escaping Serbian as he raced towards the helplessly exposed Fabianski.
On 75 minutes, Lanzini received the biggest cheer of the night when he returned to green, green grass of home in place of Felipe Anderson and, within moments of his arrival the Argentinian ace was involved in a move that saw Rico deny fellow substitute Arnautović with a point-blank stop.
Still adjusting to the pace after his lengthy lay-off, Lanzini was then booked for tripping Denis Odoi and, in a frantic Claret and Blue finale, Arnautović rattled the woodwork as West Ham piled on the late pressure that saw the Austrian substitute invite Antonio to seal victory with a 12-yard header.
HAMMERS: Fabianski, Zabaleta (Fredericks h/t), Cresswell, Diop, Ogbonna, Rice, Noble, Antonio, Snodgrass, Anderson (Lanzini 75), Hernández (Arnautović 63). Unused subs: Adrián, Carroll, Obiang, Nasri.
COTTAGERS: Rico, Odoi, Sessegnon (Markovic h/t), Ream, Bryan, Chambers, Seri (Anguissa h/t), Nordtveit, Cairney, Babel, Mitrović. Unused subs: Fabri, Ayité, Vietto, Le Marchand, Christie.
Booked: Bryan (45), Lanzini (83)
Referee: Lee Mason