Whites and Hammers in Basement Battle
Written By: Robert Halter
Relegation threatened Fulham and West Ham United met in a capital crunch match on New Year’s day as the Whites appointed Scott Parker as captain against his former Hammers with the new Cottagers head coach, Rene Meulensteen adding to his staff an ex Irons manager, Alan Curbishley as first team technical director and a former Chelsea man, Ray Wilkins as assistant head coach. But in the seventh minute from a long distance goal kick by Jussi Jaaskelainen, the ball fell to the feet of Mohamed Diame in the box, who drove his shot past David Stockdale to give the visitors an early lead. A swerving strike by John Arne Riise in the seventeenth minute drifted wide of the top corner, after Damien Duff’s cross was only half cleared. But midway through the first half, Stockdale’s outstretched leg saved the day for Fulham, as he blocked a header from Hammers captain, Kevin Nolan, after a pin point cross by Diame. On twenty five minutes, an intricate piece of play between Kieran Richardson and Riise resulted in a bicycle kick by Dimitar Berbatov being clutched onto by Jaaskelainen. Three minutes later, a goal line clearance by Modibo Maiga kept out Fernando Amorebieta’s goal bound header from a Duff corner, as the Whites kept up their search for an equaliser. The Hammers then had to reshuffle the pack as the injured Mark Noble was taken off for Razvan Rat. The breakdown in play affected the Irons as in the thirty second minute from Duff’s corner, a well timed header by Steve Sidwell, crashed the back of the net. The ascendancy was back with Fulham as they looked for another goal as Richardson flashed a shot across the face of goal and as Adel Taarabt picked up the loose ball, his low strike crashed against the left goal post. But a rash challenge by Nolan, saw referee Mark Clattenburg produce a straight red card, after Nolan was given his marching orders for clattering over Amorebieta. Two minutes into the second half, a double footed block by Jaaskelainen kept Riise at bay, after he had been played in by Taarabt. On forty nine minutes, it was all hands to the pump for the Hammers as Jaaskelainen had to keep out a header from his own defender, George McCartney, after a ball had been whipped in from Sascha Riether. Then three minutes later, Riether paved the way for Duff but he was unable to keep the ball down as the weather continued to cause havoc. The Irons then switched Diame for Stewart Downing while the Cottagers took off Richardson for Alexander Kacaniklic. In the sixty second minute, an incredible one handed save from Jaaskelainen turned Taarabt’s header against the inside of the right post, before Taarabt fired the rebound wide following a floated cross by Amorebieta. But on sixty five minutes, the Hammers resistance was finally broken as Parker flicked on Taarabt’s cross, and Berbatov pounced at the far post to score from close range. In further changes, Fulham replaced Taarabt for Darren Bent and West Ham took off Maiga for Carlton Cole. In the seventy second minute, Bent wasted a chance when one on one with Jaaskelainen, after Stockdale’s long throw out had been touched on by Berbatov. The last Whites substitution saw Duff taken off for Pajtim Kasami. As the game drew to a close a short corner between Riether and Kacaniklic, was put into the side netting but it was the extra man that proved the difference as the Cottagers made use of the advantage to win the battle for survival in the Premier League.