By Morgan Phillips
After a fortnight’s break Fulham showed a marginal improvement against West Ham but the outcome brought further disappointment.
The team which had matched Manchester United in the first quarter of the game only to succumb to a 3-0 defeat made an even more impressive start at the London Stadium.
However after dominating West Ham for the first 25 minutes, and leading by an early goal, they once again fell apart.
To his credit, manager Claudio Ranieri heeded the fans’ criticism of his previous team selection and restored Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon to start against the Hammers.
The team showed real confidence, almost scoring in the first minute. Ryan Babel fluffed his chance but atoned seconds later by flicking Sessegnon’s beautifully judged cross into the net.
Hopes of a first away win were dented when Sergio Rico punched weakly instead of catching the ball, which bounced around the penalty area until Javier Hernandez equalised.
Rico claimed that Hernandez had patted the ball in with his left hand, and almost immediately the television replays confirmed this.
Handball may be hard to define, but this was a deliberate foul. Had VAR been in operation, the goal would certainly have been disallowed and the Mexican would have received a yellow card, rather than being credited with scoring.
To be pegged back was bad enough. To be cheated seemed to instil defeatism.
When West Ham added a second goal before the interval, the match was effectively over. The defence had failed to intercept Robert Snodgrass’s corner and Issa Diop headed the ball past Rico.
Ranieri withdrew Sessegnon, who was the nearest player to Diop (but scarcely a match for his height).
Cairney stayed on the field and did his best to inspire resistance. Unfortunately the Hammers extended their lead in the last moments of the game, when Michail Antonio headed home from the edge of the penalty area.
Antonio and Hernandez had also plagued Fulham when the Hammers visited the Cottage.
The Whites won one match in December and one in January.
So far (I write before Wednesday's visit to Southampton) they have lost all their February fixtures, and in March they will face Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester City.
56 years ago Fulham escaped relegation from the top tier by winning eight consecutive games, beating amongst others Manchester United, Manchester City and West Ham.
Miracles can happen.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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