Manager Mark Hughes made two changes to his starting eleven to face West Ham at Upton Park following last weekend’s home draw against Everton. Stephen Kelly was ruled out of Saturday’s contest through injury so Chris Baird was selected at right back. The other notable change was in attack, with Eddie Johnson handed a starting role alongside Clint Dempsey in place of Zoltan Gera.
Gera was named on Fulham’s bench alongside Academy graduate goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, John Pantsil, Diomansy Kamara, Bjorn Helge Riise, Jonathan Greening and Rafik Halliche.
The media focus prior to Saturday’s contest was firmly fixed on Robert Green facing Clint Dempsey for the first time since the 2010 World Cup Finals and whilst Fulham’s American striker was left battered and bruised, he handed Fulham a first half lead with a stunning left footed volley.
The game was only two minutes old when Dempsey was left grounded for the first time, courtesy of Gabbidon’s late challenge which earned him a place in Referee Andrew Marriner's book. Dempsey came up with the perfect response, firing in the first shot of the game less than thirty seconds later.
West Ham very nearly earned the lead after four minutes of play when Piquionne’s header from the first corner of the match was cleared off the line by Salcido. Shortly after Fulham were down to ten men as Duff received treatment for a head wound.
After a bright and lively start to the game by both sides the pace of the match eased off as the quarter hour mark approached. Mark Schwarzer had to be on his toes and turned sweeper when Piquionne chased a long ball up field after 18 minutes and thankfully out-foxed his opponent outside the area.
Fulham took the initiative after 20 minutes, pressing higher up the field, which resulted in a sustained bout of pressure. Dickson Etuhu then produced the tackle of the first half on Obinna to deny the striker a shot on goal from 25 yards.
After 25 minutes Dempsey was in the wars again when Da Costa caught him with an elbow to the eye in an aerial challenge. Fulham’s American international was left badly bruised but no free-kick was awarded by Andrew Marriner. On replay Da Costa’s elbow clearly caught Dempsey in the temple.
Fulham were certainly keeping the home crowd quiet as the half hour mark approached with Eddie Johnson firing in Fulham’s second serious effort of the game before having a valid penalty appeal turned down after being pulled back by Gabbidon in the area.
After 32 minutes Parker was justifiably booked for another late challenge on Dempsey, who exacted the perfect revenge just seconds after Parker’s challenge by smashing a left footed drive past Robert Green to hand Fulham the lead. It was a superb strike by Dempsey and thoroughly deserved.
The game exploded into action after Dempsey’s strike with the American attacker at the heart of the action. Two minutes after his goal Dempsey had a worthy penalty shout turned down before Etuhu was booked for an over exuberant challenge on Parker.
Five minutes before the break West Ham summoned a response to Dempsey’s goal through Obinna but the striker’s left footed drive from the left hand side of the area flew wide of Schwarzer’s far post. The Hammers upped their game in the final minutes of the first half with Schwarzer required to save Parker’s shot from 8 yards.
Right before the break Salcoido put Fulham back on the front foot with a shot from the left hand side of Green’s area with flew just wide Fulham went into the break with a one goal lead and were just 45 minutes away from securing that elusive away win.
Just three minutes after the re-start Dempsey almost doubled Fulham’s lead with a right footed shot from the edge of the area which clipped the top of Green’s cross bar. Instead of taking a healthy 2-0 lead, the match was level moments later when Piquionne headed past Schwarzer from 8 yards to make it 1-1.
Dempsey caused West Ham countless problems on Saturday afternoon and the home side needed Green to be at his best after 58 minutes when the American skipped through two challenges on the right hand side of the area. The striker raced through for a one-one-one but Green bravely smothered the ball at Dempsey’s feet.
After 64 minutes Dempsey was at it again, tearing through West Ham’s midfield with the ball at his feet before Upson and Gabbidon combined to once again send the striker tumbling to the ground. This time Upson was booked and Dempsey should be applauded for keeping his cool on Saturday afternoon.
Both managers made changes just before 70 minutes. Avram Grant introduced striker Carlton Cole for Barrera. For Fulham Mark Hughes replaced Damien Duff with Zoltan Gera.
Cole had his first sight of goal 60 seconds after his introduction but his tame effort from the left hand side of the area was never going to trouble a keeper of Schwarzer’s calibre.
As the final twenty minutes of the match approached Fulham went on the offensive. Hughes’ side clearly desired all three points as his Team pushed higher up the field with Salcido and Davies providing good distribution from the flanks. A quick free-kick by Davies saw Dempsey head just wide of Green’s far post before Hughes freshened up his attack with the introduction of Diomansy Kamara for Eddie Johnson.
Dickson Etuhu was next to go close for Fulham after 73 minutes when he headed just wide of Green’s far post from 12 yards. The match was finely balanced during the closing stages with both teams looking capable of claiming that all-important second goal.
In the 85th minute Green produced two world class saves to deny Fulham a late winner. First the keeper tipped Davies’ 25 yard shot past the post for a corner before denying Etuhu’s headed effort from eight yards with a fine instinctive save. During injury time Kamara went close with a right footed drive from 20 yards that agonisingly flew over Green’s cross bar.
It was end-to-end action during the final minutes as both defences were stretched but a winner for either side remained elusive. Fulham took another valuable away point from Saturday’s match but will be disappointed not to have claimed all three points.