Carson clanger helps Fulham give Hughes breathing room

Fulham 3 West Bromwich Albion 0
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The Independent Football

It was just like the old days here last night, when the manager was that fellow who is now unwanted at Anfield, and appears to have been airbrushed out of Fulham's history.

Roy Hodgson's absence from the club programme's 31-photograph review of 2010 can probably be ascribed to the chairman's pique, but his presence was very much in evidence on the pitch. Mark Hughes inherited all 11 starters and once Fulham took the lead the performance, and atmosphere, were very reminiscent of last season.

It was not, however, until another of Scott Carson's howlers gifted Simon Davies a goal in first-half injury-time that Fulham were able to dominate a West Bromwich Albion side who have now lost five on the trot and badly need a result. They also need their luck to change. After Gary Neville's escape on Saturday, they were again unfortunate with a refereeing decision for Youssuf Mulumbu was fouled in the build-up to Davies' shot.

"He pushed Youssuf down," said Roberto Di Matteo. "Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't, but we have a lot of decisions going against us at the moment." The Albion manager added: "The timing of the first goal was bad for us. I think Scott is disappointed, he could have done better. He's a bit down, everybody is. We are on a bad run but we have to pick ourselves up and keep going."

Fulham's other goals came from corners, converted by Clint Dempsey and Brede Hangeland within 20 minutes of the break, and Di Matteo said: "We are missing five centre-halves and we do not have the resources to handle a big side like Fulham."

Victory catapulted Fulham above Albion and out of the relegation zone to the heady heights of 13th, easing the pressure on Hughes. Given their debt burden, Fulham need to be in the top flight, and chairman-owner Mohamed al-Fayed is not known for his patience.

"I'm pleased," said Hughes. "That's two wins in three games, with three good performances. Thirteenth makes for better reading, but I feel we can be better than 13th."

In Hughes' defence it is mainly injuries, especially to the forwards, which have rendered his squad impotent. Last night he had hoped to recall Moussa Dembélé but the Belgian remained absent, along with Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson. This excuse had limited validity on this occasion as Albion had such problems in defence that Di Matteo had to make three changes to the back four which faced Manchester United on New Year's Day. He was very unhappy to then lose the only survivor, Marek Cech, to injury and accused John Pantsil of "leaving his foot in".

Among those drafted in was 18-year-old James Hurst for his league debut. It was, though, the more experienced Gonzalo Jara who was turned too easily by Diomansy Kamara and grateful to see Carson make the game's first save.

As half-time approached, Dickson Etuhu barged Mulumbu off the ball as Albion tried to play out of defence. Etuhu passed to Davies whose 28-yard shot whistled through Carson's raised hands.

The goal injected Fulham with confidence, and dissipated what was left of Albion's. Home pressure earned corners which Albion could not defend, Dempsey, heading in unchallenged from a standing jump, then Hangeland nodding in another Davies delivery.

Fulham played out the closing stages with ease but the embraces shared with Hughes at the end, and the euphoric response of the home support, betrayed the tension that has built up around the club in recent weeks.

Fulham (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Baird; Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies (Riise, 82); Dempsey (E Johnson, 86); Kamara (Gera, 63). Substitutes not used Etheridge (gk), Salcido, Greening, Halliche.

West Bromwich (4-2-3-1): Carson; Hurst, Zuiverloon, Jara, Cech (Shorey, 34 ); Mulumbu (Fortuné, 62), Dorrans; Morrison (Cox, 69), Brunt, Thomas; Odemwingie. Substitutes not used Myhill (gk), Tchoyi, Miller, Meite.

Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Attendance 23,654.