As they did at The Valley against Charlton Athletic at Christmas, Fulham scored deep into five minutes of added time yesterday at Upton Park to take a point and demonstrate their liking for a robust London derby against relegation-threatened opposition. This time it was West Ham, already down to 10 men, who were on the receiving end when Philippe Christanval volleyed in to make it 3-3 and leave Alan Curbishley frustrated.
At least the Hammers manager could reflect happily on a result that ended a sequence of three dismal Premiership defeats that culminated in that infamous embarrassment at Reading, even if he had justifiable reason to wonder if the referee, Graham Poll, had officiated with an irksome lack of understanding. Ten yellow cards and one red, for Bobby Zamora in the second half, were not a reflection of a dirty foul-riddled game, but a sign of the Tring official's growing eccentricities and errors.
"It was not a nasty game, not at all," said Fulham's manager, Chris Coleman. "As far as I could see, there were no nasty challenges. We were ready for it to be lively - but we deserved at least a point for our performance."
Curbishley, facing the prospects of conjuring up a Harry Redknapp-style relegation escape with admirable humour, was disappointed with Poll's display in general and his apparent error, as also at Charlton, in added time, when he missed an alleged foul on Christian Dailly by Moritz Volz, that led to Christanval scoring. "It was right in front of him and that's what I said to him. I don't know how he missed it."
If Curbishley and Alan Pardew, his West Ham predecessor who is now the Charlton manager, remain in close contact, they should call for an examination of Poll's bizarre time-keeping and even stranger decisions. The result, which represented Fulham's sixth successive draw, was harsh on the Hammers' emotions, but fair. After six League games, Curbishley has delivered only one win and two draws and, rooted in the bottom three, West Ham face an almighty struggle to survive. "We badly need experienced players who can hold on to results," he conceded.
The communal despair was understandable. West Ham lost James Collins and Carlos Tevez, through injury in the opening 12 minutes, fell behind when Tomasz Radzinski was unmarked from a Wayne Routledge corner and then mounted a stirring fightback against a backdrop of yellow cards.
Both Collins and Tevez were sorely missed, but their replacements worked manfully, Zamora in particular. He steered in a merited equaliser after 28 minutes, was cautioned for a foul on Liam Rosenior after the interval and was then sent off for another on Carlos Bocanegra after 76 minutes. By then this wild, sometimes vulgar, drama had been lit up by two superb goals from Yossi Benayoun.
He put the Hammers in front in the opening seconds of the second half with a perfectly weighted shot over and beyond Jan Lastuvka and repeated the trick, with a low, close-range, running finish after a Bocanegra lapse. Brian McBride had earlier levelled with a header from a Volz cross.
Fulham then stormed West Ham's 10-man citadel and Benayoun cleared another McBride header off the line before, in Poll's added time, Christanval crashed home his first goal in English football.