What the papers say

Tuesday 2 April 2002

The Independent

They arrived in the Premiership full of promise, buoyed by the cash of Mohamed Al Fayed and the undoubted tactical nous of their manager, Jean Tigana, but Fulham's dream is in serious danger of fizzling out after less than a year.

Neat and tidy they may be, but winning games they are not, and week by painful week they are taking on the look of a relegated side. Yesterday's defeat was their eighth league game in a row without a victory; no wonder Tigana, a man so obsessed by football that he apparently has not watched a film since 1973 - at least that's Hugh Grant's explanation for the blank looks the Frenchman gives him in the newsagents - looks so worried these days.

The business end of his cocktail stick must have been a mangled pulp within minutes of the kick-off, as Fulham, as so often of late, began brightly, enjoyed pockets of pressure, but found themselves inexplicably behind at half-time.

Not until the 43rd minute did Paolo di Canio strike West Ham's first shot on target, but two minutes later the much-maligned Frédéric Kanouté justified his inclusion at the expense of Jermain Defoe, stretching to nod home Trevor Sinclair's cross after a slick one-two with the excellent Steve Lomas.

The home side had not exactly laid siege to the West Ham's goal, but they had certainly enjoyed the better of the first half. Their problem all season, though, has been scoring goals, and that again manifested itself yesterday.

Barry Hayles may have hit seven goals this season, and is admirably willing, but all those doubts about whether he is good enough for the Premiership are increasing.

Set free down the right by a fine ball from John Collins on seven minutes, he woefully overhit his cross as Louis Saha arrived in the middle to leave the Frenchman shrugging in frustration. A minute later, slipped through by the former Newcastle man, he held off Vladimir Labant, only to hit his shot into David James' legs. Sylvain Legwinski fired the rebound over.

Hayles was culpable again, just after the hour. Again finding room down the right, he again sent his cross a yard above Saha, who was removed to general disbelief a minute later. Fulham may be showing all the symptoms of a doomed side, but patience and elegance have still not given way to desperation, and that, at times, can give the impression that certain players do not really care.

There was none of the cavalry charge that fans expect when their side is staring relegation in the face, and, in truth, the most entertaining moment of a tepid second period was the disappointing petulant reaction by Di Canio to being substituted.

The Times

West Ham United must have enjoyed themselves this Easter. They appear to be revelling in their new role as Premiership bullies. On Saturday, they drubbed struggling Ipswich Town 3-1 and yesterday, just as Fulham thought they may have halted their slide towards the relegation places by pinching a point away to Southampton, along came the East Londoners to tread on their fingers as they began their climb towards safety.

Frederic Kanoute's 45th-minute winner provided West Ham with what was, in the end, a comfortable victory against a willing but toothless Fulham who have lost seven of their past eight matches. Christian Damiano, the Fulham assistant manager, is insistent that his side will survive.

"We need five points from five games to stay up; I think we will do that," he said. Fulham actually began much the brighter and sharper with Steed Malbranque and John Collins dictating the pace in midfield. After just seven minutes, Rufus Brevett found Louis Saha on the edge of West Ham's penalty area. Saha nudged the ball through to Barry Hayles, who found David James's rangy frame too cumbersome an obstacle to surmount.

West Ham were resolute with Glenn Roeder, their manager, unapologetic for his team's rather defensive approach. "We've lost ten times away from home this season and it's not good enough," he said. "I decided we'd come here and be a little more dogged."

Fulham, though, were too easily discouraged and began to squander possession with regularity with Sean Davis, the midfield player, increasingly resembling an enthusiastic Labrador vainly chasing seagulls on a beach.

The match began to stultify, but it must have been particularly galling for Fulham to see West Ham score after their first concerted period of pressure as half-time approached. Trevor Sinclair and Steve Lomas, for once showing his creative side, interpassed smartly before Sinclair pulled the ball back from the touchline to the far post, where Kanoute rather too easily beat the otherwise solid Alain Goma to head back past Edwin van der Sar.

Fulham huffed and puffed with Malbranque still trying to revivify their game, but West Ham looked composed at the back and dangerous going forward; Joe Cole should have finished the game after 71 minutes when he wriggled his way on to a through ball from John Moncur but he delayed too long and finally blazed over from 16 yards.

Only Jon Harley came close to snatching a point for Fulham, with his first touch after coming on for Davis, when his header from Finnan's cross floated narrowly wide. Even Van der Sar came forward in the last five minutes for two corners but there was no way back for Fulham.

The Telegraph

Fulham continue to take limited comfort from the misfortunes of those below them, which is just as well since they seem almost incapable of helping themselves.

Following a useful point at Southampton, this was back to the struggles of life in SW6: a third consecutive home defeat without so much as a goal, for all their possession.

The winning goal, headed in late in the first half by Frederic Kanoute, came from West Ham's solitary meaningful effort on goal, but the result was no travesty as Fulham mustered only two worthwhile chances of their own.

Jean Tigana's side cannot survive on the failings of others forever. Assistant manager Christian Damiano said that the inability to score goals characterised Fulham's season. "We need five more points from the last five games," he said.

For more than an hour West Ham played with a substitute centre-half, Ian Pearce, at right-back and Sebastian Schemmel filling in on the left after Vladimir Labant went off with a back injury, but they were seldom put under the sort of pressure which might have disrupted the generally unhurried rhythm of Christian Dailly and Tomas Repka.

For all the high tempo of their start, Fulham missed a brace of chances in as many seconds and, with them, the opportunity to ease the patent lack of confidence in their ability to beat David James.

Certainly, Barry Hayles should have scored from Louis Saha's cute reverse pass in the seventh minute but, having held off Labant, he shot against the goalkeeper's legs. A stretching Sylvain Legwinski sent the rebound high over the crossbar but the storm soon abated and, when West Ham finally ventured forward, they duly scored.

From a throw on the left, Trevor Sinclair worked a neat one-two with Steve Lomas and sent in a perfect cross with his left foot. Kanoute won an unequal aerial contest with Alain Goma to nod in his 10th Premiership goal.

Fulham substitute Jon Harley extended James with a looping header within seconds of joining the fray, but it says much for their plight that no one came closer to an equaliser than a despairing header from their goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, in stoppage time.

The Sun

Freddie Kanoute cannot win, despite striking the fatal blow in the 44th minute.

The West Ham striker got himself back in the good books of Hammers fans - but upset half his own country in doing so.

Kanoute's superbly-taken header crushed Jean Tigana's expensive team, laden with Frenchmen, and sent them tailspining further into the frenzy of the relegation dogfight.

They now hover dangerously above the bottom three with only five games left to keep alive the dream that has so far cost more than £30million.

West Ham went home embarrassed to have taken all three points while Fulham should be shamefaced they failed to score despite enjoying a stranglehold on the game.

Fulham chief Tigana is clearly rouge-faced about his side's predicament, sending No2 Christian Damiano to face the questions.

Damiano said: "We are perhaps in the worst period. We need five points from the remaining five games.

"That objective is not a huge mountain and we are in control of the situation. But we must continue to believe in ourselves.

"It is possible for us to remain in the Premier League but we have players who are less experienced than their opponents.

"We have arrived in the top level of football, perhaps in the world, and every week there are big, big matches for our players.

"We had a fantastic chance to score with Barry Hayles but, in the second half, we didn't play as well.

"But this game reflects our season when we can draw we lose and when we can win we draw."

Kanoute's 11th goal of the season healed the wounds in his love-hate relationship with Hammers fans, who reckon the laid-back striker spends most weeks in second gear.

He tucked away virtually the only chance that came West Ham's way to cap an Easter that has seen them banish their own fears of the drop while gatecrashing the top eight.

But if Kanoute was rejoicing, skipper Paolo Di Canio was far from happy at being substituted for John Moncur in the 66th minute.

The Italian grabbed his coat and stormed off around the edge of the pitch to watch the rest of the game from the tunnel.

Hammers boss Glenn Roeder said: "Freddie is our leading scorer and is a big player for us.

"He's the only one we've got with that physical presence and I thought he did a terrific job for us holding the ball up today."

He added: "Paolo worked his socks off against Ipswich on Saturday and worked hard for 70 minutes today but I needed a defensive player on to thicken things up.

"We decided to come and be dogged here today. Apart from David James' brilliant save, which was worth a goal down the other end, it was a good, professional away performance."

Tigana reckons two more wins will ensure safety for Fulham yet the run-in is laden with pitfalls.

Visits to Newcastle and Leeds are punctuated by an FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea that, instead of providing them with welcome relief, will merely provide breathing space before crunchers at home to fellow strugglers Bolton and Leicester.

At least Fulham look up for the fight and signalled their intentions early on by putting West Ham under the cosh.

It was 2-0 to Fulham in decent chances before West Ham finally got their foot on the ball midway through the first half.

By that time James had already been called into drastic action with a split-second save with his outstretched feet from Hayles.

Frenchman Sylvain Legwinsky wasted the rebound, sending his follow-up sky high over the bar.

West Ham dug in and absorbed the pressure until Kanoute made the breakthrough.

Trevor Sinclair played a neat one-two with Steve Lomas then clipped in a cross to the far post.

Even for 6ft 4in Kanoute it was an agonising stretch to beat Alain Goma in the air and head the ball down and in from three yards.

Roeder added: "Looking at the fixtures, I would be as confident as you can be that Fulham will stay up. I hope so, I like teams who get the ball down and pass it."