Cole delivers West Ham away win at last
Carlton Cole strikes twice as the Hammers storm off the bottom of the Premier League.
Fulham 1 West Ham United 3
TWO-GOAL Carlton Cole finally brought some festive cheer to the happy Hammers, who came out on top in this Boxing Day basement battle at Craven Cottage writes STEVE BLOWERS.
Finding themselves in the dreaded bottom spot on Christmas Day, things were looking even bleaker for West Ham United, when Aaron Hughes sent Fulham flying into an early lead.
But Cole and Frederic Piquionne fought back to give West Ham an interval advantage before the England striker struck again after the break to ease the pressure on under-fire Avram Grant.
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That was the first time in his career that Cole had netted twice in a league game and on a day when London Underground staged an unseasonal strike, the frozen West Ham fans at this District Line derby walked home hoping that this could be the turning point in the East Enders winter of discontent.
Looking for their first away win since their victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers on the opening day of last season, the Hammers had made five changes in the hope that it would be 28th time lucky.
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Following last Saturday’s draw at Blackburn Rovers, Cole, Junior Stanislas, Robert Green, Freddie Sears and Radoslav Kovac each came in for Kieron Dyer, suspended former Fulham favourite Luis Boa Morte plus substitutes Ruud Boffin, Pablo Barrera and Jonathan Spector.
Certainly, in the opening stages those fresh faces threatened as Stanislas saw an awkward byline cross blocked, while Cole rifled a stinging free-kick into the Fulham wall before firing another, angled shot inches beyond the far post.
But it was to prove only a brief riposte for, with just ten minutes on the clock, Carlos Salcido let fly with a 25-yarder that Green ushered around the base of his right-hand post.
And when West Ham fatally failed to clear the consequent corner, Simon Davies returned a hanging left-wing cross back into the danger zone, where the unmarked Hughes comfortably headed beyond an angry Hammers ‘keeper.
Kicking off in 17th spot, three points and three places clear of the bottom-placed Hammers, Fulham had made just one change following the goalless draw with Sunderland a fortnight ago as Andrew Johnson replaced substitute Diomansy Kamara.
And having seen his side take that early lead, Mark Hughes would have been encouraged by the recalled striker’s one-man quest to double Fulham’s advantage.
Firstly, Johnson unleashed a dipping 20-yarder that Green did well to hold as it skidded across the frosty Fulham pitch and, shortly afterwards, the shaven-headed attacker somehow mis-kicked in front of goal and the ball skewed to safety to the relief of the visitors, who would, quite simply, have been dead and buried.
On the half-hour mark, Kovac saw his 18-yard effort deflect over Mark Schwarzer’s right-hand angle, but sadly Stanislas saw yet another one of his crosses easily cleared by a home defence that had largely been untroubled during those opening exchanges.
But nine minutes before the break, West Ham fortuitously found themselves back in the contest, when Piquionne’s back-heel was collected by Sears, whose misplaced cross was inadvertently diverted goalwards by the stretching Dickson Etuhu and Cole reacted quickest to steer an eight-yarder beyond the sprawling Schwarzer.
If the England striker’s scrappy fourth goal of the season had an element of festive fortune about it, there was nothing lucky about Piquionne’s timely sixth strike of the campaign, which came right on the stroke of half-time.
Collecting from Stanislas on the right flank, the tireless Scott Parker cleverly chipped the ball to the far post, where, unmarked, the Hammers forward sent a deft sidefoot volley past Schwarzer to give West Ham an unlikely interval lead.
Just after the restart, Matthew Upson was booked for fouling Clint Dempsey and then the breaking Sears found Cole with the perfect pass but the England striker’s first touch deserted him and a glorious chance was lost.
Already, the equally under-pressure Hughes had seen enough and he quickly responded with a double switch that saw Damien Duff and Eddie Johnson replace Etuhu and Dempsey to agitated Cottagers’ cries of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!’
And after Green gallantly dived into Andrew Johnson’s studs, Fulham’s frustrations transcended on to the pitch, where ex-Hammer John Paintsil was booked for scything Stanislas.
Midway through the second half, Sears cleverly spun and fired just wide of Schwarzer, while at the other end Green again thwarted the breaking Andrew Johnson with another brave save, before Duff launched an angled effort just inches beyond the far angle
But on 72 minutes, Fulham handed the Hammers another Yuletide gift, when Danny Gabbidon’s upfield ball skidded off the head of Hughes and the alert Cole held off Brede Hangeland to steer a low, angled, eight-yarder into the far corner and finally end that awayday hoodoo.
FULHAM: Schwarzer, Paintsil, Salcido, Hughes, Hangeland, Davies, Etuhu (Johnson E. 53), Murphy, Dempsey (Duff 53), Gera, Johnson A. Unused subs: Stockdale, Baird, Kamara, Greening, Halliche.
HAMMERS: Green, Ben-Haim, Gabbidon, Upson, Tomkins, Sears, Stanislas, Parker, Kovac, Piquionne (Nouble 89), Cole. Unused subs: Boffin, Reid, Barrera, Spector, Ilunga, Obinna.
Referee: Mark Halsey. Attendance: 25,332.