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Dimitar Berbatov celebrated his 32nd birthday with a vital goal that spurred Fulham onto a 3-1 victory against London rivals West Ham United.
After a bright start to the season, Fulham’s form has tailed off and manager Martin Jol admitted in the build-up this clash was "vital" to his struggling side. That sense of importance was evident from the outset as Fulham came out fast, with Berbatov nodding home the opener just 10 minutes in from Damien Duff’s free-kick.
West Ham showed impressive fight, levelling through captain Kevin Nolan in the 48th minute. That lead lasted just a minute, though, as Hugo Rodallega bundled home a Duff cross to put Fulham on course for their second league win of 2013, which was secured in stoppage time when Joey O’Brien put into his own goal.
After seeing Joe Cole shoot wide after only 19 seconds, Fulham forced the east Londoners on to the backfoot during a bright opening. Guy Demel did well to stop Duff latching onto a looped through-ball from Berbatov, before Winston Reid denied the latter after neat link-up play.
West Ham goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen was forced into action in the eighth minute, parrying away a fierce Bryan Ruiz effort from 20 yards. Duff fired across the face of goal moments later as Fulham pressed for an opener that came in the 10th minute. Duff sent across a free-kick from the right, which looked to take the slightest of touches off Ruiz as it made its way to Berbatov to head home.
The goal jolted West Ham into life and they soon began to threaten from the flanks. Matt Jarvis could have done better when meeting a Demel cross from six yards and, after Duff struck another shot across Jaaskelainen’s goal, Nolan nodded a Mohamed Diame ball wide when well placed.
Fulham dominated the rest of the first half. Reid blocked a well-struck Giorgos Karagounis effort and a Ruiz ball just evaded Rodallega. Berbatov came closest, wriggling free just inside the Fulham half and bursting past several West Ham players, before firing just wide of the near post.
Wes Ham pressed from the restart and grabbed an equaliser in the 48th minute. Mark Noble played a quick free-kick that caught the hosts off-guard and Nolan fired a low left-footed strike from an acute angle past Mark Schwarzer.
The stalemate lasted for just a minute, though. Duff burst down the left flank and sent in a cross that Rodallega reached ahead of West Ham’s defenders to bundle home.
It was an electric start to a second half that soon settled, with Carlton Cole replacing Marouane Chamakh as the Hammers searched for another leveller. Nolan saw a tame effort denied by Schwarzer, who again thwarted the West Ham captain with a one-handed save in the 70th minute.
Berbatov soon lashed inches wide as play swung from end to end, with Joe Cole claiming a penalty against Brede Hangeland. Andy Carroll soon replaced his former Liverpool team-mate and forced Schwarzer into action moments into his first appearance since November 28.
Mladen Petric and Rodallega both fluffed chances for Fulham in the closing stages, which Philippe Senderos spent hobbling after collecting a knock. Fulham wrapped up victory in stoppage time as Jaaskelainen parried a shot into Petric’s path and his dinked effort was directed home off O’Brien.
Fulham manager Martin Jol: “The result was very important. They were on 27 points, we had 25. Norwich were on 26 so it is a vital win.
"I am a happy customer, especially is you saw this game and the last four games here at home. We lacked a bit of luck, sometimes a bit of quality and today the first half we were good.
"[AC Milan's Urby Emanuelson] is a loan until the end of the season. It is not easy to get players from AC Milan on a permanent basis. I coached him at Ajax. He is a skilful player, very agile. He is very mobile, quick. He can play left midfield, wide, play number 10 so I feel we need fresh legs."
West Ham assistant manager Neil McDonald: "Sam [Allardyce] is working very hard behind the scenes. If we can bring anyone else in, that would be great. It would be more competition for places.
"The first goal puts us on the back foot but I thought we showed tremendous character to come back in the second half.
"We put Fulham under pressure and created some really good chances. We got back into the game and then disappointingly conceded within a minute.”
|02 Feb 2013||v Man Utd (H)|
|09 Feb 2013||v Norwich (A)|
|23 Feb 2013||v Stoke (H)|
|02 Mar 2013||v Sunderland (A)|
|17 Mar 2013||v Tottenham (A)|
|01 Apr 2013||v QPR (H)|