West Ham 2 Fulham 1
West Ham battled to a 2-1 win over Fulham tonight in front of new club-record £7m striker Dean Ashton, bought to add a cutting edge to Alan Pardew’s attack.
However, it was in defence where the Hammers boss is now likely to turn his attentions before the transfer window closes after watching his side hang on after having earlier taken command at Upton Park with brilliant first-half strikes from Anton Ferdinand and Yossi Benayoun.
The Hammers had lost four successive home league games before tonight, and so were in need of a positive start, the atmosphere inside the Boleyn Ground charged following a pre-match walkabout by England under-21 striker Ashton and a game which would mark the end of full-back Tomas Repka’s stay with the club before he returned to the Czech Republic.
Fulham, though, had improved in recent weeks and set about looking for their first Barclays Premiership away win with some endeavour.
The first chance of the evening arrived after six minutes.
Heidar Helguson got his head to a corner from the left, only for the goal-bound effort to come back off his skipper Luis Boa Morte, who was standing in the six-yard box.
Fulham continued to dominate midfield and restrict the hosts to short, ineffective attacks down the channels.
However, after 17 minutes, West Ham took the lead with a spectacular strike from Ferdinand.
A corner was only cleared as far as the edge of the penalty area, where Marlon Harewood nodded the ball on.
It dropped right into the path of centre-back Ferdinand, who turned to hook a superb first-time effort up and over Antti Niemi.
The goal had, though, come against the run of the early play, and Fulham were soon pressing for dominance of the midfield again.
But after a somewhat uncomfortable spell, West Ham were again looking to go on the offensive, Benayoun seeing more of the ball in the final third.
And the Israeli conjured a magical second goal in the 29th minute.
West Ham worked the ball along the edge of the penalty area from the left, with winger Matthew Etherington picking out his midfield team-mate on the far side.
Benayoun turned American full-back Carlos Bocanegra inside out before stepping back, and then dispatching a perfect angled chip over Niemi into the net.
To their credit, Fulham tried to lift themselves and find a way back into a match they had started well.
However, the hosts were now full of confidence, and passed the ball around with some aplomb.
After 37 minutes, Niemi got down well to block a low strike from Harewood at the edge of the area.
And it needed another good stop from the Finland international goalkeeper to beat away Benayoun’s fierce, angled drive before Zamora headed a deep cross from the right over at the far post as the Hammers finished the half in control.
Bocanegra’s night almost got worse at the start of the second half when he looked to have hauled down Zamora as the pair tussled for Zat Knight’s loose back header.
Referee Uriah Rennie, however, gave the benefit of the doubt to the Fulham defender and signalled no foul – much to the frustration of watching Hammers’ boss Alan Pardew.
The visitors pulled a goal back on 52 minutes.
A long punt forwards was flicked on by Brian McBride.
Centre-back Danny Gabbidon failed to deal with the bouncing ball just outside the box – and Helguson needed no second invitation, taking a touch before smashing a low, angled shot in off the right-hand post for his fifth goal of the season.
The Icelander then looked to have a strong penalty claim waived away by the referee after he appeared to have been bundled over by Hammers full-back Paul Konchesky after breaking clear down the right.
Tomasz Radzinski almost made an instant impact after coming off the bench on 62 minutes.
Konchesky, inexplicably, decided to duck under a cross from the Fulham left flank, which dropped into the path of Radzinski, just inside the box.
The substitute’s first-time effort was well struck and flying towards the top right-hand corner before Carroll pulled off a breath-taking save at full-stretch.
It was all Fulham now – and the Northern Ireland ‘keeper had to again be alert to push Boa Morte’s low drive around the post.
West Ham, though, almost extended their lead with 15 minutes to go when Zamora saw his header come back off the base of the post after being picked out by Etherington.
Fulham pressed during the closing stages, but West Ham had done just about enough to deserve a first home league win since Bonfire Night.