Javier Hernandez’s controversial goal with his arm contributed to Fulham’s 18th Premier League defeat of the season as West Ham fought back from behind to win at London Stadium.
On initial viewing, it looked like Hernandez had headed in from a yard to punish goalkeeper Sergio Rico’s mistake, but a replay from behind the goal clearly showed the Mexican striker converting via his arm.
Hernandez’s equaliser was followed by Issa Diop’s towering header five minutes before half-time and Michail Antonio nodded in a third late on.
The visitors had started brightly and got off to the perfect start after just three minutes through Ryan Babel’s close-range finish – the Dutchman making amends for a glaring miss within the opening 30 seconds.
Looking to get back into the game in the second period, Fulham skipper Tom Cairney had a low shot smothered by goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, their only real chance of note.
West Ham move up to ninth but Claudio Ranieri’s side stay in 19th place – eight points adrift of safety – missing a crucial opportunity to claw back the deficit on 17th-placed Cardiff who were thrashed 5-1 by Watford.
Time running out for Fulham
Fulham need a remarkable turnaround if they are to avoid dropping straight back into the Championship.
The club had high hopes on their return to the top flight after a four-year absence and may well have expected a top-10 finish after becoming the first promoted side to spend £100m or more in a single transfer window.
But the Cottagers have struggled badly and title-winning Ranieri, who replaced Slavisa Jokanovic as manager in November, has failed to shore up a porous defence.
The numbers look miserable for Fulham, they have now:
- Conceded a league-high 61 goals this season.
- Won just four of their 27 games.
- Lost six of their last seven games.
- Failed to win a single game away from home all campaign.
Former Liverpool winger Babel finished off a swift team move to open the scoring early on, but that was their only high point, and another fellow ex-Reds winger signed in the January transfer window, Lazar Markovic, was unable to make an impression on his debut from the bench.
Ranieri said: “We were solid but we didn’t have a chance to score again. Time is running out but we never give up, we must be confident and we must dream and continue to fight.
“I tell my players if we fight, maybe we can win. If we don’t fight, we have lost before we play. It’s important to stay together and continue to try our best.”
Hernandez’s helping arm
West Ham also invested heavily in the summer, close to £100m, and move into the top 10 despite an inconsistent season.
The Hammers collected just their second win from their last eight games, though their 10 victories this season is equal to their total number of triumphs last term.
But the points came courtesy of a huge helping hand from Hernandez, who stooped to put the ball into the net after goalkeeper Rico was unable to clear a corner and both Michael Antonio and Angelo Ogbonna had flicked on.
Referee Lee Mason was stood at the edge of the box, but his view of the incident was obscured by bodies and an incensed Ranieri gesticulated to his arm on the touchline.
“It’s an intentional handball, Hernandez knew what he was doing,” said former West Ham defender Matthew Upson on BBC Radio 5 live.
“But Sergio Rico should have done better for the goal. The punch was so poor. You just can’t make those mistakes at this level.”
Fulham never looked like getting back into the game from that point and Diop rose to head in from Robert Snodgrass’ corner.
Substitute Marko Arnautovic, who had a thumping shot brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Rico, chipped the ball back for Antonio to score the third.
Declan Rice has earned rave reviews for his performances this season and playing in his first match since declaring his international availability for England, the midfielder was superb once more.
Not only did the 20-year-old keep the play ticking for his side but he gave a solid defensive display with six tackles and three interceptions, regaining the ball 13 times – better than any of his team-mates.
Rice told Sky Sports: “The manager has been on at me all season to protect the back four.
“I’ve been playing so much in midfield now that that’s where I want to see my future. I’d love to play in that holding role but there’s still much to improve on.”
Another positive for West Ham was the return to action of midfielder Manuel Lanzini, who played the final 14 minutes after being out injured since May because of a knee injury.
Man of the match – Declan Rice (West Ham).
It was handball – Pellegrini
West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini: “We started the game asleep, the first 10 minutes was unbelievable. After that we played a very good game. We scored three goals and had three or four clear chances.
“It was a complete game – apart from the first 10 minutes. You never know the reason, maybe we were distracted. The important thing is we changed our attitude.
“From my position I couldn’t see the handball, I have seen it since and it is handball. Nobody saw it very clearly at the time, there was not too many complaints. I don’t think that the goal decided the game.
“I never complained when we didn’t have results because I don’t like excuses but it is very difficult when you have eight or nine injuries but now you can see that we have players coming back.”
Babel’s long wait for PL goal – the stats
- Fulham’s nine London derby defeats in a row is the longest such losing run in Football League history by any London side.
- West Ham have completed the league double over Fulham for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign, when they were managed by Gianfranco Zola.
- West Ham’s victory means the Hammers have picked up 14 points from London derbies in the top flight this season (W4 D2 L2). Only Spurs (15) and Arsenal (16) have managed more.
- Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri is now winless in his last 22 Premier League games away from home – the longest run for a manager in the competition since Roy Hodgson back in October 2010 (also 22).
- Manuel Pellegrini has now won each of his four Premier League encounters against Fulham, only versus West Brom (6/6) does the Chilean have a better 100% winning ratio in the competition.
- Ryan Babel’s strike for Fulham was his first Premier League goal since December 2010 (Liverpool v Aston Villa), 3000 days ago.
- West Ham striker Javier Hernandez has become the first Mexican player to score 50 Premier League goals. All 50 have been scored from inside the box.
- Michail Antonio made his 100th Premier League appearance for West Ham in their match against Fulham. Only Tottenham Hotspur (24) have seen more Englishman play at least 100 games in the competition than the Hammers (21).
- Fulham have become just the fourth side in the Premier League era to concede at least 60 goals after 27 matches of a single campaign. Only Barnsley (63 in 1997-98) conceded more than Fulham’s 61 so far this season.