Fulham elegance looks irrelevant

Fulham 0 West Ham United 1
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The Independent Football

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.

Fulham: Van der Sar 6; Finnan 6, Brevett 6, Melville 6, Collins 5 (Marlet 6, 61), Malbranque 6, Hayles 5, Legwinski 6, Saha 6 (Boa Morte 6, 61), Davis 6 (Harley, 83), Goma 6. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Knight.

West Ham United: James 6; Dailly 7, Sinclair 7, Repka 7, Labant 5 (Pearce 6, 24), Schemmel 6, Cole 6, Carrick 6, Lomas 7, Kanouté 6 (Defoe, 86), Di Canio 5 (Moncur 6, 68). Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Courtois.

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).

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