West Ham United 2 Fulham 1: Fulham's little problems drilled into Hodgson by Hammers

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The Independent Football

It was comeback day at Upton Park with Jimmy Bullard and Julien Faubert making their first appearances of the season, but little encouragement for anyone hoping Fulham might return from the relegation mire.

Any punter wishing to recoup the cash lost backing Harry Redknapp's aborted move to Newcastle might be advised to put a wedge on Fulham for next season's Championship title. They have the perfect squad, not just not good enough to stay up, but not good enough to be decimated by the survivors picking off their best players.

The one ray of light is that Roy Hodgson has quickly worked this out for himself. When it was suggested his squad was long on quantity, but short on quality, he argued it was lacking in both areas. As it happens Fulham, after Lawrie Sanchez's plundering of the Northern Ireland team, have a first-team squad of 29 players.

"We need to sign players to stay up," Hodgson said. "We have 15 points from 22 games. Of course we need people. But we need the right people, players who are going to make us better, not just make us bigger in terms of depth. It's important we get players who balance up our team. A lot of our players are of a similar height and not very tall, so stature will be a factor."

The big loss, for Sanchez especially, was Brian McBride the warhorse centre-forward. He is on his way back and Hodgson wants to partner him with Marlon King, an aspiration Watford are understandably resisting.

Hodgson's a wise head and he needs to be for signing players is an art. Harry Redknapp makes few mistakes but David Nugent was one being unsuited to Portsmouth's game. Nor is Ashley Cole, with a preference for dribbling with the ball rather than crossing it, as integrated at Chelsea as at Arsenal. Freddie Ljungberg has also struggled to adapt to a new style after leaving Arsenal but, on Saturday, played his best match for West Ham.

Playing as an old-fashioned wide man, and looking like one after swapping a bloodied shirt for a jersey with neither name nor number, he set up Dean Ashton for West Ham's equaliser and made Paul Konchesky's return a misery. "That's what I'm about," he said. "If the ball is on the ground, I can go at the defenders and create stuff."

Ashton's deft header nullified a Simon Davies free-kick which Rob Green let drift in from 30 yards as he was waiting for Carlos Bocanegra's header. The American deliberately evaded the ball. Anton Ferdinand had lost Bocanegra, so he was especially delighted to score the winner after Mark Noble refused to let an over-hit pass run out.

That showed the spirit Hodgson needs in the coming months, that and some quality reinforcement. As West Ham showed last year, it can be done.

Goals: Davies (8) 0-1; Ashton (28) 1-1; Ferdinand (69) 2-1.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Spector, Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney; Ljungberg (Faubert, 89), Mullins, Noble, Etherington (Bowyer, 83); Ashton, Cole (Boa Morte, 65). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Collins.

Fulham (4-4-2): Niemi; Baird, Stefanovic, Bocanegra (Hughes, 14), Konchesky; Volz (Bullard, 77), Davis, Murphy, Davies; Healy (Smertin, 78), Dempsey. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Ki-Hyeon.

Referee: Mike Riley (Yorkshire).

Booked: Fulham: Konchesky.

Man of the match: Ljungberg.

Attendance: 34,947.

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