Filed: Sunday, 26th December 2010
By: Staff Writer
West Ham recorded their first away win in the Premier League since August 2009 with a comprehensive victory against fellow strugglers Fulham at Craven Cottage this lunchtime.
Carlton Cole - with his first ever top flight brace - fired the Hammers off the bottom of the table at the expense of Wolves, who were beaten 2-1 at home by Wigan. Inbetween Cole's strikes, Freddy Piquionne's scored United's third with a goal on the stroke of half time.
The all-important, moral-boosting away victory certainly didn't appear to be on the cards after 11 minutes when Aaron Hughes nodded the Cottagers ahead with his first goal in some five-and-a-half years. The defender was left criminally unmarked inside the six yard box to nod home the game's opener.
However the home side were to shoot themselves in the foot eight minutes ahead of the break; Freddy Sears' low drive into the box was completely misjudged by Dickson Etuhu and the resulting loose ball fell into the path of a lurking Carlton Cole, who struck the ball across Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer from the right corner of the six-yard box to restore parity.
That slight touch of fortune was perfectly complemented with a touch of quality in the dying seconds of the half when Scott Parker's pinpoint delivery from the left flank to the far post was met with a thumping volley from Piquionne to stun the home crowd.
The Frenchman's goal was his sixth of the season - and West Ham are yet to lose a game he's scored in.
All of which was good news for the Hammers and the travelling faithful who had made the short trip across the Thames for the day's early (midday) kick off. With West Ham's recent form suggesting better performances tend to occur after the half time break, hopes were high of more yuletide cheer to follow.
Early exchanges after the break were fairly even which led to frustration amongst the Fulham support, no doubt expecting to see their team seal three points which would in turn ease their club's own relegation worries. Mark Hughes, who was rumoured to be facing the tin tack should he fail to win today's game was probably feeling a tad twitchy too.
But a Fulham win - or a draw, for that matter - began to look less likely as the half wore on, with Avram Grant's well-drilled side beginning to win the important balls and take control of the centre of the park, despite Hughes having made a double switch ten minutes into the second period.
Sears went close with a turn in the shot from the edge of the six-yard box, then Junior Stanislas' on-target effort was narrowly deflected wide. 17 minutes from time and under pressure, goalscorer Hughes atoned for his earlier error - from a claret and blue perspective, that is - by midjudging Danny Gabbidon's lofted drive towards the Fulham penalty area.
Carlton Cole, showing the predatory instinct that has appeared all too rarely this season was first to respond, this time striking the loose ball across Schwarzer's left side into the opposite corner to put the Hammers into what proved to be an unassailable two-goal lead.
West Ham safely saw out Fulham's barely insipid attempts to claw their way back into the game - Rob Green's stunning point-blank save from Eddie Johnson in the dying seconds of the game the only moment of note - to record a most-welcome away win, the first since winning 2-1 at Wolves on the opening day of the 2009/10 season some 16 months ago.
Hopes are that today's success will signal the start of a second 'great escape' - although with the win leaving West Ham just two points behind 17th placed Birmingham (albeit having played two games more) a steady continuation of recent results should prove enough to stave off the dreaded drop.
Christmas is turning out pretty well so far for West Ham, having accumulated four points out of a possible six from the two away games at Blackburn and Fulham.
With very winnable games against Everton and Wolves to follow at the Boleyn within the next five days, this Christmas period could prove to be a most fruitful one indeed for Avram Grant.
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