Head-To-Head

Thursday 28 November 2013 17:20

Fulham and West Ham United’s meeting at Upton Park on Saturday afternoon (3pm) marks the coming together of two of the Barclays Premier League’s out-of-sorts sides.

The Whites are without a win in their last four league matches, but our hosts at the weekend can go one better, although they have drawn two of those five games. Both teams currently languish near the bottom of the table on 10 points, though, with Fulham’s inferior goal difference ensuring occupancy in the final relegation spot.

Team news will arrive from Martin Jol’s press conference on Friday, with Brede Hangeland again the main concern, while Hugo Rodallega and Matthew Briggs are long-term absentees and Sascha Riether will sit out the final game of his ban.

The Hammers could be without a string of first-team regulars for the match, with Razvan Rat, Winston Reid, Alou Diarra and Ricardo Vaz Te all set to miss the London derby, while record signing Andy Carroll remains on the sidelines.

The opposition

After a promising start to the campaign which saw four points taken from their opening two fixtures at home to Cardiff City and away at Newcastle United, momentum has not really gone in West Ham’s favour since.

They have tasted league victory just once since the opening day of the season, albeit an excellent 3-0 triumph over rivals Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Reid, Vaz Te and Ravel Morrison were all on target for the Hammers on that afternoon in early October as Sam Allardyce successfully trialled a new 4-6-0 formation.

The brave decision to play without a recognised striker has not have the same effect since that match, though, with a lack of goals painstakingly apparent – only the bottom two of Crystal Palace and Sunderland have found the back of the net less frequently than the Hammers this season.

Defeats by Manchester City, Norwich City and Chelsea have all been suffered of late, although they did pick up two points from goalless draws with Swansea City and Aston Villa. But Irons fans can find some solace away from the league, with their side continuing their battle in the Capital One Cup as victories over Cheltenham Town, Cardiff and Burnley have set up a Quarter-Final clash with Spurs next month.

Last time out

30.01.2013 Fulham 3-1 West Ham United

Both sides were in desperate need of points the last time they met, with Fulham coming out on top from what was a tense encounter at Craven Cottage.

The Whites started well under the floodlights and Bryan Ruiz drew a seventh-minute save from Jussi Jaaskelainen following good play by Dimitar Berbatov and Giorgos Karagounis, although the breakthrough did arrive soon after.

Reid hauled down Rodallega in a dangerous position down the right and when it looked as though nobody was going to be able to get on the end of Damien Duff’s swinging delivery, Berbatov arrived late at the far post to bravely nod the ball beyond Jaaskelainen.

The visitors’ best chance arrived on the half-hour mark when an excellent Mohamed Diame cross was met by the head of Kevin Nolan but the Hammers skipper sent his effort marginally wide of Mark Schwarzer’s near post.

Berbatov then showed great skill and strength at the other end to get away from his man and hold off the subsequent challenges before drilling a low effort towards goal that had Jaaskelainen scrambling to his right, only to see it fly a fraction off target.

Within three minutes of the restart West Ham were handed a soft free-kick following a challenge by Ruiz on Diame and they caught Fulham napping when it was taken quickly to Nolan who kept his composure to fire in the equaliser from a tight angle.

Credit to the Whites, though, their heads remained high and a quick counter attack saw them regain the lead a minute later when Steve Sidwell, Rodallega and Karagounis combined to feed the advancing Duff down the left-hand side. The winger then picked his moment before delivering a deliciously inviting cross which Rodallega – who had continued his run – attacked, beating three defenders to the ball in the process, to head past the exposed Jaaskelainen.

The Irons’ best chance to equalise for a second time in the game arrived with 20 minutes remaining when Nolan bullied his way into the box to create a shooting opportunity which he placed wide of the far post when Carlton Cole was well positioned for a tap-in had he been found, before Berbatov went close to making it 3-1 with a poked effort moments later.

Allardyce then threw the returning Carroll into the action to try and spark his side into life and it almost paid immediate dividends when the striker controlled the ball on the edge of the area before rifling in a powerful strike that Schwarzer did well to hold.

With just one goal in it nerves were always going to be jangling amongst the home fans but any anxiety was extinguished when the Whites nabbed a third in the first minute of stoppage time. After Jaaskelainen could only parry Rodallega’s effort, substitute Mladen Petrić was on hand to dink the ball goalwards, with Joey O’Brien’s momentum ensuring it crossed his own line to secure a crucial three points for the Whites.

Players to watch

Ravel Morrison: Much was made of the former Manchester United youth’s past, but Ravel Morrison has certainly let his football do the talking this season, with a string of impressive performances from West Ham’s midfield. Such is his importance to the Hammers these days, he’s been involved in every Premier League game this season and has five goals to his name in all competitions. An accomplished dribbler with an excellent shot, there’s more than a hint of speculation that if the eccentric talent can maintain his form then he’s got every chance of gatecrashing England’s World Cup squad next year.

Stewart Downing: Having been a key part of a successful Aston Villa side, Stewart Downing failed to replicate that form following a big-money move to Liverpool. However, now he’s back in a less pressurised environment at West Ham, the Upton Park faithful know they have a player capable of producing the spectacular. With a venomous left foot, Downing can be one of the top flight’s best crossers of a ball on his day and whichever Fulham full-back is tasked with marking him will need to be on his guard.

James Tomkins: They do like a youth product over at Upton Park and James Tomkins joins an elite list of players who has risen to become a favourite in East London. Since being handed his debut for the club in March 2008 at the age of 18, he’s gone on to make more than 160 appearances for the Irons and is now a mainstay in their defence. With the influential Reid currently absent through injury, Allardyce’s dependence on solid performances from the former England Under-21 centre-back is all the greater.

Magic numbers

5 - Kevin Nolan has netted five goals in his Premier League career against Fulham, including in both of his two appearances against the Whites for the Hammers.

32.4 - The Hammers have hit the target with just 32.4 per cent of their shots this season, the lowest percentage in the top flight.

96 - Fulham have attempted the fewest shots in total in the Premier League so far this season (96).

1 - West Ham have won just one of their last 11 Premier League matches (W1 D4 L6) and none of the last five on home soil (W0 D1 L4).

1 - In West Ham’s previous 17 Premier League campaigns, they have only once had fewer points than they have at this point in 2013/14 (eight points in 2010/11 and they were relegated).

6 - Carlton Cole has scored six goals in his last five Premier League starts against Fulham. Against no side has Cole netted as many Premier League goals than versus the Whites.

6 - The Whites have only won six out of 56 Premier League London derbies away from home, with the first of those coming in November 2001 at Upton Park.

99 - Fulham have conceded 99 goals away from home in Premier League London derbies.

8 - West Ham are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games against Fulham at Upton Park (W4 D4).