Fulham 6 WBA 1
Fantastic Fulham cruised to their biggest win of the season in the Barclays Premiership thanks to a disputed ‘hat-trick’ from Heidar Helguson and two goals from substitute Collins John.
The 28-year-old Icelandic striker helped condemn awful Albion to their 14th defeat of the season to keep them on the edge of Barclays Premiership relegation battle.
But he will have to wait until the Premier League decide whether his third goal will be officially credited to him after his original shot was directed into the net by Albion defender Curtis Davies.
The ball appeared to be going wide of the target when he attempted to curl Tomasz Radzinski’s pass into the net and changed direction completely when it struck the Albion defender.
There had been no such doubt about his first-half double. He began his demolition job in the fourth minute when he latched on to a header from Brian McBride and ran on into the penalty before firing in a low drive.
His second arrived five minutes before the interval when he leapt highest at the far post to meet Simon Elliott’s free-kick.
The afternoon had begun on a sombre note with a minute’s silence for former Fulham player and England manager Ron Greenwood, who died on Thursday aged 84.
Helguson and McBride were a constant threat to the Albion defence with their aerial ability but three minutes after the Icelander’s strike Albion keeper Tomasz Kuszczak was forced to hold a header from defender Carlos Bocanegra.
Albion offered little invention in midfield and consequently their attack was starved of the service it required in order to flourish.
But when the Albion midfield were given space and time to play Fulham discovered it could pack a punch with keeper Antti Niemi forced to tip a dangerous 20-yard drive from Nigel Quashie over the crossbar in the 17th minute.
Fulham’s failure to increase their lead allowed the visitors to enjoy a sustained spell of pressure which almost brought them an equaliser in the 33rd minute.
The home defence failed to deal with a near-post corner and amid the panic to clear their lines the ball fell to Quashie, whose shot from the edge of the penalty area had Niemi diving low to his right to keep it out.
The chance sparked Fulham back into life and McBride was unlucky not to get their second when he tried to steer the ball beyond Kuszczak at the near post.
Five minutes before the break a foul by Albion’s Martin Albrechtsen on Luis Boa Morte was punished by the impressive Helguson when he rose highest at the far post to plant Elliott’s curling free-kick into the top corner.
Albion’s plight worsened in the 48th minute when Fulham added their third of the afternoon.
This time the scorer was Tomasz Radzinski, who evaded the attentions of the Albion defence and lobbed the ball over the stranded Kuszczak.
However, the scorer was booked by referee Poll seconds later for taking off his shirt to celebrate his goal.
In the 52nd minute Kevin Campbell went close for the visitors with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area which only narrowly evaded the Niemi’s left-hand upright.
Three minutes later Albrechtsen sent a right-foot effort into the side-netting from an acute angle as Albion, for the first time in the contest, looked as though they wanted to make a fight of it.
Helguson looked to have completed a deserved hat-trick in the 59th minute with a deflected shot from the edge of then penalty area, although the effort has so far been credited as an own goal.
Malbranque fed the ball to Radzinski on the right flank and he sped fully 30 yards unchallenged before delivering a perfect pass to Helguson.
But the striker’s original effort appeared to be going wide of the target before it struck Albion defender Davies, changed direction and wrong-footed Kuszczak.
Albion boss Bryan Robson immediately replaced the injured goalkeeper with substitute Russell Hoult.
But Helguson, replaced by Collins John in the 64th minute, will have to wait for the Premier League to adjudicate on whether he can claim a hat-trick or not.
John scored Fulham’s fifth in the 82nd minute when he poked home Radzinski’s curling cross and Albion pinched a consolation effort three minutes later when captain Kevin Campbell beat Niemi with a low drive at the near post.
John wrapped up the scoring in the 89th minute when he fired Radzinski’s pass beyond Hoult.