If West Ham's first win of the season last week was a step forward, this was a giant step back to the bottom of the Premier League. Avram Grant's side were unable to follow up their victory over an injury-hit Spurs side, and found the unbeaten Fulham made of sterner stuff – and it could have been even worse.
But for an error by Brede Hangeland, Fulham would probably have won away from home in the League for the first time since the opening match of last season, 22 games ago. Ahead through Clint Dempsey, they looked untroubled until Hangeland's misplaced pass allowed Frédéric Piquionne to equalise with his third goal in as many games.
Robert Green, the West Ham goalkeeper, must see visions of Dempsey in his worst nightmares. It was the American whose shot he fumbled in the 1-1 draw against the United States in the opening game of England's 2010 World Cup campaign, and the keeperhas not played for his country since.
But Green was powerless to stop Dempsey this time, and saved his team on at least two other occasions with West Ham devoid of inspiration and Fulham finishing the stronger.
A goalkeeper being man of the match in successive games is not usually a good sign for any team, but Grant was determined to see only positive things in an anaemic performance. "The [League] position is not so important at this stage of the season," he said. "One win can take you up the table and we're only four points behind Fulham. The most important thing is to take points and show we are improving."
But are they? There was plenty of industry and no little skill from both sides in an even first half, but no one could produce the final pass. Mark Noble did his best for West Ham, his corner to the head of Piquionne forcing Carlos Salcido to head the ball off the goalline, and his forward pass obliging Mark Schwarzer to rush 25 yards from his line to kick away from the same player.
Danny Murphy produced the pass of the first half for Fulham on 31 minutes, sending Eddie Johnson charging into the West Ham penalty area, where he fell under challenge by Lars Jacobsen but was denied a penalty that Mark Hughes, the visiting manager, described as "clear".
Fulham, though, were ahead two minutes later as Simon Davies's deflected pass spun over the home defence and Dempsey reacted quicker than Matthew Upson and Danny Gabbidon to volley beyond Green and into the top corner.
But instead of consolidating, they let it slip six minutes into the second half when the normally reliable Hangeland passed straight to Luis Boa Morte 30 yards out, and he played the ball out to Victor Obinna on the right. Hangeland, attempting to cover, ended up out of position at left-back, leaving Piquionne unmarked in the middle to head Obinna's cross in.
But West Ham failed to raise their game, Carlton Cole came on but made no difference and Fulham pressed. Green had to block at the feet of Dempsey, and Dickson Etuhu and Diomansy Kamara wasted chances, the goalkeeper doing superbly to save Etuhu's close-range header.
Fulham remain unbeaten, and Hughes said: "I feel we will convert some of the draws into three points before long. I'm pleased with the level of performance, but not the result."
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Green
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content