West Ham United 3 Fulham 3: Curbishley in a fury as Poll makes no buddies

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Post-match, the West Ham United manager Alan Curbishley saluted the wit and wisdom of David Essex - he was referring to an interview with the hit-making Hammers fan in the match programme. Essex's 1973 film That'll Be The Day is an affecting tale full of rock 'n' roll dreams, bittersweet reversals and Ringo Starr. Following Saturday's heartbreaking result against Fulham, Curbishley must be thinking, how can it get more bittersweet and when will it be our day?

West Ham conceded a goal and lost Carlos Tevez and James Collins to injuries inside 16 minutes. Later, Bobby Zamora was sent off. But still the home side played and battled their way to a 3-2 lead at the end of normal time. Then came a final, sickening twist with Philippe Christanval's equaliser in added time. West Ham were left with a draw but, in their precarious position, it felt like a cruel defeat.

"It's a killer," the Fulham manager Chris Coleman said sympathetically. "They've got a point, but it feels like you've lost. With the goals we gave them, they must have thought it was going to be their day. But then we get one at the death."

The midfielder Yossi Benayoun epitomised the skill and grit West Ham brought to the game. After the recent 6-0 wreckage at Reading, Benayoun had talked about his team-mates playing "like a bunch of drunks". His first goal on Saturday put West Ham into a 2-1 lead and had all the dizzying intoxication of the first slug from a perfect cocktail as he took a ball from Zamora on the run and then chipped into the corner beyond the outstretched Jan Lastuvka.

Fulham had scored the game's opener with a two-yard clip-in from Tomasz Radzinski against the run of play. West Ham immediately fell into resignation and listlessness. Even Zamora's equaliser did not remove their hesitancy. But when Benayoun scored within 20 seconds of the restart there was suddenly the feeling that the home side could and should win.

It was a match with as much error as skill. In this the referee Graham Poll played a deeply equivocal part. In a well-contested match the Tring official managed 10 bookings. Several perplexing decisions demonstrated this referee's apparent compulsion to cast himself at the centre of events. However, Poll's perverse decisions were evenly distributed and his eccentric calls raised the temperature and helped to produce a thrilling second half.

West Ham were negligent when they left Brian McBride unmarked to head in for 2-2. However, Benayoun neutralised his team's lapses with heroism and incision. With sharp penalty-area anticipation, he put West Ham into the lead again. He also cleared off the line.

Zamora rashly ploughed into Carlos Bocanegra for a second yellow card in the 76th minute. Down to 10 men, West Ham looked to play out the game with a mix of last-ditch defending and some elegant time-wasting. Benayoun and Luis Boa Morte, playing against his old team, staged a couple of master classes in passing by the corner flag.

The amount of added time - five minutes - enraged the home support. After three of these, Christanval shot home from close range. It was the Frenchman's first goal in English football, but it was more significant for West Ham.

"I couldn't see where [Poll] got the five minutes from," said Curbishley. "He missed a push on Christian Dailly [before Fulham's final goal]. It was a clear push and Graham Poll was right there.

"We badly need experienced players who can hold on to results," the manager added. "Confidence is a massive thing and we now just need to hold on."

At the final whistle, several West Ham players lay prostrate on the turf. Dean Martin reckoned you are not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on. One or two of Curbishley's side looked like they were struggling to hold on to life itself.

However, no one could accuse them of playing like drunks this time. They had given a lot and ended up with what felt like nothing.

Goals: Radzinski (16) 0-1; Zamora (28) 1-1; Benayoun (46) 2-1; McBride (59) 2-2; Benayoun (64) 3-2; Christanval (90) 3-3.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Carroll; Dailly, Collins (Spector, 11), Gabbidon (Newton, 81), McCartney; Benayoun, Reo-Coker, Quashie, Boa Morte; Cole, Tevez (Zamora, 13). Substitutes not used: Green (gk), Mullins.

Fulham (4-4-2): Lastuvka; Rosenior, Christanval, Bocanegra, Queudrue; Routledge, Volz, Brown, Radzinski; McBride, Helguson (Montella, 67). Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Runstrom, Pearce, Omozusi.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: West Ham Reo-Coker, Cole, Zamora; Fulham Christanval, Queudrue, Rosenior, Helguson, Bocanegra, Routledge.

Sent off: West Ham Zamora (76).

Man of the match: Benayoun.

Attendance: 34,977.

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