West Ham Utd 2 Fulham 1: Ashton's brilliance rouses Hammers from slumber

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The Independent Online

Zero to hero was the experience of Anton Ferdinand as West Ham eked out a win which confirmed their status as a top-half Premier League side, if narrowly, and pushed their London neighbours even deeper into trouble. The home defence was all over the place as Fulham grabbed an early lead through a Simon Davies free-kick, and they were so lacklustre subsequently that jeers began to ring round Upton Park.

"Anton was the one who copped it at half-time," their manager, Alan Curbishley, said. "I wasn't happy with the way he started. But him and the rest of the defence came back in the second half, determined to put it right."

Amends were made both at the back and the front when, in the 69th minute, Ferdinand rocketed a shot into the roof of goal which even the superb Antti Niemi could only gape at. Quite properly, Curbishley paid tribute to Mark Noble, who chased what looked like an overhit pass from Hayden Mullins to theline and not only reached it but hooked over the perfect ball for Ferdinand to strike the shot which won the match.

Fulham have not won away for 28 matches and their last victory over another London club came 14 months ago, sotheir eighth-minute score was a moment for jubilation. Davies, his team's best outfield player, took a free-kick to the left of the penalty area, curling it in right-footed. The ball sailed through the ruck in the box and Robert Green, perhaps distracted by Carlos Bocanegra's darting attempt to connect, did not move as it found the net.

It was virtually Bocanegra's last contribution. He needed treatment and several stitches soon afterwards for a facial cut and though he came back on it was only briefly before he made way, suffering from blurred vision, for Aaron Hughes.

At this stage there was more urgency from Fulham, encouraged by the ease with which they dispossessed West Ham, but just short of the half-hour the home side were hauled back into itby a moment of brilliance from Dean Ashton. Freddie Ljungberg, West Ham's outstanding player, raced past Paul Konchesky and crossed for Ashton, who got in front of his marker to meet the ball with a glancing header.

Over the next dozen minutes it was only Niemi who stood between Ashton and a hat-trick. As the striker took a short Matthew Etherington centre on his chest and turned to thump what looked an unstoppable shot, Niemi somehow deflected it on to the bar. Next he flew to push an Ashton angled left-footer over the top and, not content with those heroics, also foiled Ashton's fellow striker, Carlton Cole, blocking his low effort.

Fulham kept plugging away, mainly through the work rate of Davies and Danny Murphy, and Clint Dempsey whistled one past Green's left-hand post. But it was West Ham who had the measure of the match now and, before making way for theex-Fulham man Luis Boa Morte, Cole saw his header from a corner cleared off the line by the shaven pate of Konchesky, the ex-Hammer given a warmwelcome on his return.

After Ferdinand's strike, and another narrow miss by Ashton, the loudest roar of the afternoon greeted the much-delayed debut, if only in the 88th minute, of Julien Faubert, signed last summer for £6m from Bordeaux and out of action ever since with Achilles problems. "At least the fans have now seen him for a minute," Curbishley smiled.

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