Pressure builds on Hughes

MARK HUGHES could never have envisaged at the start of the season that he would be fighting to save his position at Fulham and have his own supporters calling for him to be sacked by Christmas.

It was only seven months ago that Fulham reached the Europa League final and the club were hoping for even more success this season. Hughes must have felt he could help the west London club challenge in the top half of the table, and even help their push for another European spot.

But this latest defeat against fellow strugglers West Ham has left them languishing in the bottom three and supporters were shouting for him to go at the end of this 3-1 defeat at Craven Cottage — they even booed their side off the pitch at the full-time whistle.

Despite Aaron Hughes putting the home side into the lead, Fulham were participants in their own downfall as they gifted West Ham two of their goals and allowed Carlton Cole continue his incredible scoring streak against them. It was also the Hammers first away win of the season.

Roy Hodgson may have left Fulham during the summer to join Liverpool, but supporters were still full of optimism following the appointment of Hughes back in July.

The former striker has a wealth of experience in the top flight, having managed Blackburn and Manchester City, and spent time in charge of the Wales national side.

He has struggled to bring the best out of the Fulham players this season though — they have only won two games, which has piled the pressure on Hughes in recent weeks.

This latest defeat means they have now gone eight games without a win — but, more importantly, it has helped West Ham close the gap to their London rivals.

You could sense that the Fulham supporters have lost faith in Hughes when he brought off Clint Dempsey early in the second half and they responded by singing: ‘You don’t know what your doing’.

Hughes says he will do everything in his power to help the club move away from the bottom three.

“I think they are well within their rights to vent frustration because they’ve seen their team lose at home, which is not something that’s happened on that regular an occasion,” he said.

“But, deep down, I think the vast majority understand what we’re trying to do and it will take time. We’ve just got to be patient. If we do that, there’s good players here and we’ll come through the other end.”

Hughes will now realise what his opposite number Avram Grant must have been feeling like in the build-up to this game. The latter’s position at West Ham has been under threat for the majority of the campaign and if reports were to be believed, he only had two more games to save his job.

With Sam Allardyce and Chris Hughton waiting in the wings, it seemed only a question of time before West Ham co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold would make a change.

Only West Ham could boast a record of going 27 league games on their travels without a win, but all that was to change on a memorable St Stephen’s Day, as they finally moved away from the foot of the table and got their first away win since the opening day of the 2009/10 season.

It was only West Ham’s third league victory of the season and Grant admitted that the victory could prove to be a significant moment.

He said: “I hope this is the turning point. We don’t deserve to be on the bottom and I’m sure this victory will give us a lift.

“The owners are very good with me and didn’t say anything different. I need to stick to my job and they have been very supportive, even in the difficult times. We have a vision at the club. It’s not easy to turn things in a few months, but people do it.”

It could have been a different story for West Ham if Fulham had held onto an early lead given to them by Hughes.

Simon Davies saw his cross from the left pick out Hughes, who was completely unmarked inside the box. Major question marks will surely be raised over the West Ham defence as their marking was all over the place once again.

Hughes had all the time in the world to direct a powerful header past Robert Green into the corner of the net. It was an extra special moment for the Northern Ireland international, who celebrated his first goal in almost six years.

West Ham refused to lie down though and showed all their fighting spirit when they grabbed an equaliser on 37 minutes. Frederic Piquionne’s back-heel found Freddie Sears whose cross was going nowhere until Dickson Etuhu’s out-stretched leg diverted the ball back towards goal.

Cole reacted the quickest to his mistake and fired a low shot past Mark Schwarzer to give West Ham, and more importantly Grant, a major lifeline. The England striker certainly enjoys playing against Fulham as he has now scored five goals in his last five starts against the west London club.

Grant and the West Ham away supporters must have thought their luck was finally going to change after Piquionne put them into the lead on the stroke of half-time.

West Ham’s star performer of the season, Scott Parker, played a major part in the goal when his cross from the left fell perfectly for Piquionne and he struck a close-range volley past Schwarzer to send the away fans into wild celebrations behind the goal.

Any doubts of West Ham throwing away yet another lead were quickly ended when Cole added his second of the game on 74 minutes.

Danny Gabbidon played a high ball into the Fulham half. Hughes failed to deal with the clearance and Cole made a sharp turn to fire a powerful effort past Schwarzer into the corner of the net.

Amazingly, it was the first time Cole scored two goals in a league game, However, more importantly, it helped West Ham secure their first victory away from home this season.

Just maybe it will be enough to help keep Grant in a job. It remains to be seen if the same can be said for Hughes.

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