Not for some time will the public address announcer again welcome West Ham supporters to "Fortress Upton Park", unless his tongue is in closer proximity to his cheek than it appeared to be yesterday. Three wins in eight days, two of them at home, seemed to have convinced a number of people who should have known better that the Happy Hammers had cracked it.
But the defence that collapsed so spectacularly at Everton and Blackburn has not suddenly become an immovable object, any more than beating Southampton, Chelsea and Ipswich makes Paolo Di Canio and company a match for the finest in the land.
Fulham could easily have doubled their season's total of three away goals, but were happy to settle for achieving a first away victory in the Premiership and climbing back above the their rivals from the other end of the District Line. Early in the afternoon, the familiar, frustrating story of their season continued, with abundant possession and inadequate penetration. Only later was the neat control and passing of the midfield quartet rewarded, and eventually they were threatening to score on every break.
As Jean Tigana's assistant Christian Damiano said: "After half-time the game was different, because West Ham had to take a big risk and we had the space." The home manager Glenn Roeder took the defeat as calmly as he had accepted the recent run of victories, complaining only mildly that the second goal should not have been allowed and praising the outstanding performances of the opposition's Steed Malbranque and Sylvain Legwinski. If Fulham were to end up sharing Upton Park next season, while Craven Cottage is belatedly brought into the 21st century, those brought up on West Ham's pass-and-move football would enjoy watching them.
The most famous recent meeting between the teams, the FA Cup final of 1975, was brought to mind yesterday by the presence of Bobby Moore's 10-year-old granddaughter as West Ham's mascot. Before the kick-off, she was presented with a Fulham No 6 shirt, but that was all the visitors gave their hosts. They were without Steve Marlet, their most expensive - some would say most extravagant - signing, who will be out for another two months with a hairline fracture of the knee. But the midfield, as well as running the game, scored the goals as well.
After Barry Hayles, sent clear by John Collins, shot weakly enough to allow Christian Dailly a block, possibly with his hand, Legwinski stole forward unmarked to head in Malbranque's corner. Greater fluency might have been expected from West Ham following their recent run of victories. They created a single clear chance until the last few minutes, Don Hutchison sending Frédéric Kanouté away early on to ease past Steve Finnan and side-foot a shot against the far post.
Otherwise the highlights of a dull first half were a bout of pushing between Hayden Foxe and Hayles, both of whom were booked, and a comical incident in which Nigel Winterburn slid into Bjarne Goldbaek, one of the Fulham substitutes jogging along the touchline.
West Ham's young striker Jermain Defoe warmed up vigorously throughout the half-time break and was summoned within 15 minutes to replace Laurent Courtois, Di Canio dropping deeper on the left. Before the scoring prodigy had a touch, however, Fulham had a controversial second goal. Di Canio tripped over Malbranque with his trailing leg before the Frenchman sent Louis Saha away and swiftly joined him in a four-against-four attack; his countryman played a perfectly weighted pass to his right and Malbranque beat Shaka Hislop with no great difficulty.
In the last half-an-hour, the West Ham defence was regularly embarrassed on the break and might have been punished again by Malbranque, Hayles, Saha, Louis Boa Morte and finally Goldbaek. By the final whistle "Fortress Upton Park" had been well and truly besieged.
WHEN confidence flows through Fulham, when their players feel at home in the environment and at home with their skills, they are a convincing and soothing sight to see.
Yesterday, with their classic counter-attacks and their ground skills perfectly used on a greensward of a pitch, they destroyed West Ham United's unbeaten home run, and handsomely registered their own first away win in the Premiership. Both statistics were fully justified.
Frederic Kanoute, the Hammers' Frenchman, was unlucky in the extreme not to score early on. He shrugged off Steve Finnan, he turned swiftly on a through ball from Don Hutchison, and beat goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar comprehensively, but the ball cruelly rebounded to safety off the base of the far post.
Barry Hayles, very English and very one-footed, missed the first of three opportunities. Hayles was clean through to goalkeeper Shaka Hislop just before half-time, rounded the goalkeeper masterfully, then mis-hit the ball woefully. It was his left foot, how could we blame him? The ball struck Christian Dailly and from the rebound Steed Malbranque shot towards goal and Hayden Foxe cleared off the line.
Moments later Malbranque came at West Ham again. He dispossessed Hutchison in midfield, and forced a corner. Malbranque guided the ball cleverly in to the six-yard box and Slyvain Legwinski was unmarked as he scored with a downward header.
A week ago a brace of goals from Malbranque had defeated Southampton; now in the 65th minute, he again broke up a West Ham attack.
He engineered an exquisite counter-attack and ran and ran until he gave Hislop not a ghost of a chance with the power of his right foot.
Hislop saved West Ham, saved from John Collins with his legs, saved once from Hayles and once from the substitute Bjarne Goldbeck. By comparison not until the final minute did Van der Sar produce a magnificent double-save, finally deflecting a point-blank shot from Nigel Winterburn. Fulham, who have a manger who refuses to abandon good habits because of indifferent results, deserve that and more.
Even Glenn Roeder had to admit that Fulham "though an expensive side to put together, have spent wisely".
Particularly, Roeder envies Tigana his matchwinner Malbranque. "I don't like to say it, but I enjoyed watching Malbranque play. He's excellently balanced and he is difficult to get off the ball. I believe he cost £5m from Lyon."
Expensive, wise, and on the day too good. But Roeder has some good news: tomorrow, he anticipates, Joe Cole will be back in full training. The Hammers need him.
'FULHAM ARE BACK,' chanted the merry men from the Cottage as the West Ham United fans drifted silently away from Upton Park. It has taken Fulham two-and-a-half months to demonstrate they are coming to terms with the Premiership. A convincing away display brought many rewards: buoyed by their first taste of triumph on their travels and first experience of back-to-back wins, you could sense self-belief beginning to course through their veins.
The team Jean Tigana has constructed are beginning to look the part, with two of his newest recruits, Sylvain Legwinski and the excellent Steed Malbranque, summoning the killer instincts to halt West Ham's mini-revival.
For Glenn Roeder, after such a fraught start to his managerial career, three consecutive wins came at just the right time to repair his credibility. Rightly satisfied with recent results, he was at pains to ensure that his newly confident team did not become cocky. Guarding against the danger of taking their eye off the ball was paramount.
Briefly, his team responded. Frédéric Kanouté ought to have opened the scoring after 11 minutes, when the only covering defender, Steve Finnan, slipped in the penalty area at a crucially inopportune moment. The languid Frenchman was suddenly bearing down on Edwin van der Sar and beat him with a deft curl, only to see the ball bounce back off the far post.
Kanouté was causing all manner of problems for the visiting team's defence. He left them bewildered by drawing two opponents and backheeling the ball to Paolo Di Canio. But, mimicking Finnan, the Italian lost his footing at the same spot and the chance disappeared.
Much was expected from two sides with a reputation for fluid, attacking football. But it soon developed into an oddly passionless affair, despite the best intentions of the flame-haired Hayden Foxe and Barry Hayles to increase the temperature, when they began shoving each other on the touchline near the halfway line. Before long, the majority of the players had rushed over to see what the fuss was about.
In fact, the game subsequently became even more tepid. West Ham withdrew into a shell, while Fulham probed without managing much penetration. Scoring has been the b te noir during their inauspicious introduction to Premiership life. Record signing Steve Marlet was missing with a knee injury, which presented Hayles with another chance to partner Louis Saha. Both struggled to muster the confidence that was so integral to their scoring touch last season in Division One.
Hayles looked certain to score as he raced on to John Collins's cleverly threaded pass with Shaka Hislop committed. With the goal at his mercy, the Fulham player mis-hit spectacularly. When Christian Dailly slid in to clear the ball, it struck his arm, but Fulham's penalty appeal was ignored and Foxe shepherded away the danger.
Even though they were misfiring, Fulham sensed that a relatively shaky West Ham defence, who were missing the authority of the suspended Tomas Repka, might crack under pressure. Just before half-time, the visiting team took the direct route and it paid dividends. From Steed Malbranque's dipping corner, the towering Sylvain Legwinski thumped a downward header past Hislop.
The sight of the prodigious Jermain Defoe trotting on to the field to warm up at half-time was greeted warmly by the home crowd, a hint that they would appreciate a little more enthusiasm in attack. In fairness to Fulham, they defended stoutly.
Cometh the hour, cometh the boy. Defoe, the young upstart whose knack for pocketing goals brought such joy with the matchwinner at Ipswich last week, could be held back no longer. He produced one of the few efforts requiring an intervention from Van der Sar. Expectation mounting, Fulham crushed West Ham hopes with a crafty - not to mention slightly contentious - break.
With Di Canio trying to trigger something just outside the penalty area, he tripped over Malbranque's outstretched leg. No foul, according to referee Graham Barber. So Fulham's arch-creator advanced. With a little help from Saha, who slipped a pass perfectly into his path, Malbranque's rasping, rising drive beat an exposed Hislop.
Proving to be an effective playmaker since his move from Lyon, he is no bad finisher either and his third goal in two games makes him Fulham's top scorer. He would have had another, latching onto Hayles's deft pass, but Hislop was able to smother.
Fulham played it differently yesterday. They have made their mark this season for creating chances in number, threatening victories aplenty and fluffing them all. Yesterday, opportunity was sparse but gratefully received.
It was not a complete change of identity, though - Barry Hayles did manage to miss a gapingly open goal - but in Steed Malbranque and Sylvain Legwinski, they had two French imports who would take their goals and run the match too. Louis Saha has been trying to do that all season.
Malbranque's impetus in attack, however, seemed an ideal link to the ever-threatening Saha yesterday and Legwinski played deeper to control the crucial area in front of the defence where West Ham initially threatened to run havoc.
The Hammers' recent victorious run, however, was comprehensively brought to an end. They looked for much of the first half as if they would be able to stretch it even further, but the clear chances they created were few.
Fulham, with two consecutive wins of their own, are now up and running and confident. This, of course, is what we said about West Ham at the start of the week, but Jean Tigana's side have had victories like these bursting to escape on to the results page and the professionalism of their execution yesterday was not going to let another one get away.
It was actually when they were sitting back on their lead in the later stages that they looked at their best, for their defence was strong and their speed and danger on the break was nearly further rewarded.
West Ham, though, were so much the better side from the start that Fulham had trouble keeping hold of the ball. Don Hutchison laid an early claim to the centre of midfield which he was to maintain for much of the first half until Legwinksi came roaring into contention, but it was a fabulous long ball from Hutchison which could have given the Hammers a deserved early lead.
Hutchison's ball had fed Frederic Kanoute, who did well to slip his marker, Steve Finnan, and take the ball through to a one-on-one with Edwin Van der Sar. His shot, however, cannoned off the right-hand post and that, eventually, was as close as West Ham were going to get.
West Ham's centre-back partnership of Christain Dailly and Hayden Foxe were initially the outstanding combination on the pitch, albeit lucky to remain there. Foxe, in particular, dulled the effervescent Saha and pretty well nullified the rather less lively Hayles. Dailly also did his fair share to restrict Fulham's early chances, going so far as to double up as a goalkeeper to keep them out.
This should have been a key moment in the game, for Dailly clearly handled in his own box and prevented a horribly mis-hit shot crossing the line in the process. A penalty should have followed together with a red card for the offender. Neither did, West Ham escaped and Hayles was left to rue the opportunity. Eight yards out, the goalkeeper beaten, he should have scored even with a makeshift pair of hands rushing back to get in the action.
Hayles may have been some way from his best yesterday, but he was able to atone minutes later with a crucial contribution to the first goal. A clever through-ball won Fulham a corner, Legwinski ran unchallenged into the box and headed downwards to score.
Malbranque sealed the win with the second goal in the 64th minute. Fulham, on the break, moved the ball the length of the pitch before it reached Saha, who unselfishly passed to he compatriot to score.
News of the World
The French connection UK fired Fulham to their first away win in the Premiership and condemned West Ham to their first defeat at home.
Jean Tigana's Gallic imports Sylvain Legwinski and Steed Malbranque hammered home the goals to nail West Ham's run of three victories in a row.
Hammers boss Glenn Roeder said: "We fought Fulham all the way and we tried to play a passing game, but it is disappointing to lose.
"It would be unfair, though, to say we expected to get all three points because this is a very good Fulham team and has been an expensive team to put together."
But Roeder did have a moan about Fulham's second goal which came after he claimed Paolo Di Canio had been fouled.
Roeder said: "We should have had a free-kick but instead they broke away on the counter attack and punished us."
Tigana's assistant manager Christian Damiano was delighted by the result and said: "We played very well. It was a very important moment in the game when we scored just before half-time.
"West Ham then had to attack and take big risks and that gave us more space and we could have scored more."
Roeder's men started off in the mood to chalk up their fourth win a row as they flew at Fulham right from the off.
Don Hutchison's rasping 25-yard drive almost caught out Fulham goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar but the Dutch ace gathered the ball at the second attempt.
Then Frederic Kanoute should have made it 1-0 after 12 minutes when he went one on one with Van der Sar.
The Frenchman fired his shot across the keeper but then watched in dismay as it clipped the far post and bounced clear.
For a London derby it was a strangely subdued affair both on the pitch and among the crowd.
But the temperature rose in the 18th minute when a clash between Barry Hayles and Hayden Foxe sparked a melee among up to a dozen players.
That prompted bookings for Hayles and Foxe but it failed to liven up the action.
Luis Boa Morte was then booked for a bad foul as Fulham struggled to find their form, so much so that Tigana stood on the touchline waving his arms in a bid to urge his players on.
It almost paid immediate dividends as Fulham opened up West Ham for the first time.
Hayles lost his markers to go clean through and when he rounded Shaka Hislop a goal looked certain.
But the Fulham striker completely miss-hit his shot and Christian Dailly dived in to block the ball on the line.
Malbranque looked odds-on to knock in the rebound but Foxe flew in to thwart him with a superb tackle.
Fulham would not be denied, though, and grabbed the lead in the 43rd minute.
Malbranque's corner from the left was met on the run by the unmarked Legwinski and his header bounced into the ground and up into the net.
It was Legwinski's second goal for Fulham since joining them in the summer in a £3.3million move from Bordeaux.
West Ham came out fired up for the second half but, once again, they could not make their pressure count.
Di Canio shot just wide but it wouldn't have counted anyway as the offside flag had already been raised.
In a bid to add more fire power Roeder sent on exciting youngster Jermain Defoe to replace Laurent Courtois.
But Fulham went further ahead on 65 minutes as they scored on a breakway attack.
Louis Saha burst across the edge of the box before squaring to Malbranque who hammered a terrfic shot.
Hislop got a hand to the former Lyon man's drive but could not keep it out.
Defoe tried to hit back with a sweet turn and low shot but Van der Sar made a comfortable low save.
West Ham were now taking risks and Fulham threatened to take advantage.
Man of the match Malbranque went clean through but Hislop stood up and made a fine block.
Fulham's No2 Damiano added: "Steed is a big player with big talent who can score goals. He had a big game for us today."